SWC injury curse hits
Paris -The World Cup injury curse struck with a vengeance on Friday a week before the month-long tournament opens as stars with England, Italy and Ivory Coast suffered mishaps which threaten their participation.
England skipper Rio Ferdinand looked set to miss the event after the Manchester United veteran defender hurt his knee in a training session while Ivory Coast and Chelsea striker Didier Drogba fractured his arm in a friendly win over Japan.
Germany's Michael Ballack, Drogba's teammate at Chelsea, is already out of the tournament owing to an ankle injury suffered in the FA Cup final win over Portsmouth.
Yet another Chelsea man, Ghana midfielder Michael Essien, will be absent after not recovering in time from a medial ligament tear in his left knee suffered while training with the national side before the African Nations Cup in January.
Italian midfield star Andrea Pirlo will miss his country's opening match against Paraguay in Cape Town on June 14 with a calf strain, team sources revealed - although he is at least expected to be available for the remainder of the group stage.
For England, injuries to top stars on the eve of major tournaments have become something of a tradition.
The metatarsal bones of David Beckham and Wayne Rooney have made headline news in the recent past - they at least managed to compete in 2002 and 2006 respectively - while former skipper Bryan Robson dislocated his shoulder in a World Cup warm up game back in 1986 and had to play in a harness.
Four years earlier, in 1982, stalwarts Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking likewise were crocked and sat out the action, save for late cameo showings in a second phase goalless draw with hosts Spain which proved insufficient to prevent elimination.
Now Ferdinand is the casualty - and a potentially expensive one given his experience of three previous World Cups.
The central defender went for a scan after suffering the injury, forcing England manager Fabio Capello to put Tottenham's Michael Dawson on stand-by.
"Rio picked up a knee problem in training," Capello told reporters at a news conference in Rustenburg outside Johannesburg after saying Ferdinand was hurt in a "minor tackle".
He explained: "It happened near the end (of training). He has gone to hospital for a scan and we will have to see how things are."
Concerns mounted as Ferdinand was seen leaving hospital on crutches amid reports he may have suffered ligament damage.
Capello's number one goalkeeper, veteran David James, also has what Capello termed "a slight knee problem" though midfielder Gareth Barry appears to be back on track following his recent ankle injury.
Ivory Coast were hoping against hope on Friday evening that inspirational skipper Drogba would overcome the arm fracture suffered in a robust challenge from defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka during the Ivorians' 2-0 friendly win over Japan, in which Drogba scored the opener with a deflected free-kick.
"Didier Drogba has not for the moment pulled out (of the squad)," the Ivorian Football Federation (FIF) said in a statement on its website, as rumours abounded that the player would not recover in time.
Elephants' coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said: "We do not know if he will be able to play the World Cup. Of course it is very worrying. He is our skipper and our best player. I have not as yet spoken to him but what is certain is that he was in great pain."
French media reports quoted Drogba as saying he would miss the tournament and his team-mate Kolo Toure told reporters: "The World Cup is finished for him."
French sports daily L'Equipe reported on its website: "After tests the player confirmed to us he would not be able to play in the World Cup" but later reported that Drogba had decided to have swift surgery and hoped "to be fit in 10 days", which would theoretically enable him to play in Ivory Coast's Group G opener with Portugal on June 15.
Under FIFA rules a country can replace an injured player until the day before their first match.