Just as the hype and excitement for the World Cup is building to a feverish pitch, over the last two days we have had to read devastating headlines about star players (most of them Premier League stalwarts or ex-EPL stars) going down to injury in exhibition warm-up matches.
Devastating because in the World Cup you want to see the best of the best out on the pitch, that is what this tournament is about, it is what makes it so special. But in the last 48 hours, the list of those that will or may not be in South Africa has become staggering.
- Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United): Ferdinand had replaced John Terry as England captain after the Chelsea star’s unscrupulous affairs made international headlines, and was set to appear in his fourth consecutive finals. But a clash with Emile Heskey on the training ground on Friday has ruled him out of the Cup. His season had been tarnished with injuries (started only 13 EPL matches) and this just puts the icing on the cake. The only ball-playing CB for England, it will be interesting to see how the Three Lions cope without their captain.
- Didier Drogba (Chelsea): Arguably the best striker in the world, Drogba is now trying to salvage his World Cup dream through emergency surgery after dislocating his elbow in a friendly against Japan. The 37-goal striker is coming off his best season ever, and is the heart and soul of the Ivory Coast squad. If he cannot return to action for the tournament, it could bury the Elephants’ chances of getting out of their “Group of Death” featuring Brazil, Portugal and North Korea.
- Michael Essien (Chelsea): Having been plagued by injuries all season long for Chelsea, Essien tried to play his way back to get into the Ghana team, but failed to prove his fitness. Ghana’s best player, Essien’s absence will severely hinder any hopes of Ghana returning to the knockout round where they were eliminated by Brazil in 2006.
- Michael Ballack (Chelsea): Yet another pivotal Chelsea player, Germany captain Michael Ballack was ruled out of the tournamant after a vicious tackle from Portsmouth’s Kevin-Prince Boateng (Ghana) in the FA Cup final left Ballack’s ankle in smithereens. So productive for his national side, Ballack’s injury leaves a gaping hole in midfield for the always-dangerous Germans.
- John Obi Mikel (Chelsea): Are Chelsea footballers cursed for this World Cup? While it was always going to be difficult for Mikel to feature for Nigeria after injuries derailed his Chelsea season in April, it has been confirmed that he will indeed not be traveling to South Africa after an undisclosed injury this morning.
- Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich, formerly Chelsea): And now the news this morning that Arjen Robben, Bayern’s wizard winger who at certain points single-handedly took the Munich giants to the Champions League final, has suffered a hamstring setback which could very well rule him out for Holland. While the Dutch have a plethora of playmakers, Robben is instrumental to their setup, and will be sorely missed this summer if he is out.
So there you have it. The above players would make any manager’s starting lineups in the world, yet they could all be missing from world football’s biggest stage this summer.
When Argentina and Portugal were struggling to qualify, I thought to myself how tragic it would be to deprive the world of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the World Cup. While not quite up to Messi and Ronaldo’s enormous stature, the players above are major international stars that will be sorely missed by not only their countries but by the whole world, because in a World Cup you want to see the very best out there in full health so that the greatest tournament possible is realized.
Sports can be so cruel sometimes.