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England's tale of World Cup injury woe

Bryan Robson is helped from the field with a dislocated shoulder
Bryan Robson dislocated his shoulder at the 1986 World Cup

By David Ornstein

No World Cup build-up would be complete without a major injury concern for England.

Precedent suggests it was always going to happen and so it proved on Thursday, as Ashley Cole was ruled out for around three months with a broken ankle.


Fabio Capello's first-choice left-back now faces a race against time to be fit for this summer's finals in South Africa, and his absence would be a serious blow to the country's hopes of triumphing for the first time since 1966.

BBC Sport takes a look back on the physical ailments that have dogged England's preparations for football's blue riband competition in years gone by.


Then England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson was probably still reeling from the cracked metatarsal Wayne Rooney suffered at Euro 2004 when history repeated itself.

Manchester United and England striker Wayne Rooney
Rooney cracked a metatarsal six before the 2006 World Cup

On 29 April 2006, the Manchester United striker crumpled to the ground following an innocuous challenge by Chelsea's Paulo Ferreira at Stamford Bridge.

X-rays revealed the 20-year-old had fractured the base of his fourth metatarsal, exactly six weeks before England's first game of the 2006 World Cup against Paraguay.

Rooney recovered in time to be named among the substitutes on 10 June and, despite not making it off the bench in the opener, featured in all four of the team's subsequent games in Germany.


Tottenham defender Ledley King looked set to join Rooney in Eriksson's 23-man squad before also breaking a bone in his foot.

The injury occurred when King clashed with Duncan Ferguson during Tottenham's victory at Everton on 14 April 2006, but he played on until the 90th minute and Martin Jol, Spurs' manager at the time, insisted his centre-back would be fit for the World Cup.

Yet King did not play again that season and Eriksson said he was not prepared to take a player who was "half-injured" and "can't train".


Rooney's injury was all the more worrying given that his international strike partner Michael Owen was facing his own fitness battle having picked up a similar problem a few months earlier.

Owen cracked his fifth metatarsal - the same bone Rooney damaged at Euro 2004 - in a collision with England goalkeeper Paul Robinson while playing for Newcastle at Tottenham on 31 December 2005.

The forward had a metal pin inserted into his foot and managed only one substitute appearance in the ensuing five months but came through three World Cup warm-up games and two fixtures at the finals.

He looked to be rediscovering his form before being struck down by an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury during England's 2-2 draw with Sweden.


A key member of Eriksson's back four, Gary Neville was a shoe-in for England's right-back slot at the 2002 World Cup.

But he broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot during Manchester United's Champions League semi-final against Bayer Leverkusen on 24 April and failed to recover in time for the finals.

News of Neville's injury would have done little for the mood of Eriksson, who was already sweating on the fitness of David Beckham.


Has there ever been a bigger sports injury story in this country?

Few outside the medical world had heard of a metatarsal until 10 April 2002, the day David Beckham found himself on the receiving end of a terrible challenge by Deportivo La Coruna's Argentine midfielder Pedro Duscher.

England midfielder David Beckham
Beckham broke his foot less than eight weeks prior to the 2002 World Cup

But it became a national buzzword over the subsequent seven-and-a-half weeks as England captain Beckham did everything in his power to make Japan and South Korea.

Newspapers printed life-sized cut-outs of the Manchester United midfielder's foot and encouraged readers to pray for his recovery, while the player himself slept in oxygen tents and sported a state-of-the-art surgical boot.

Beckham travelled to Asia with his team-mates and, although clearly some way from full fitness, played in all five of England's matches.

He scored the winning penalty in a group match against, ironically, Argentina but pulled out of a tackle that led to Brazil scoring in his side's 2-1 quarter-final defeat.


Bryan Robson won 90 caps for England but he would have had so many more were it not for injury.

Captain Marvel hit top form in the qualifying campaign for Italia '90, leading his country for the 50th time in their 5-0 victory over Albania and scoring both goals in a 2-1 win against Yugoslavia.

And there seemed no fitness concerns as he came through England's opening Group F game with the Republic of Ireland, which ended in a 1-1 draw.

But he had been carrying Achilles tendon and toe injuries and they flared up against the Netherlands, forcing boss Bobby Robson into replacing him with David Platt after 64 minutes.

Platt went on to become England's stand-out performer in their run to the semi-finals and, but for three appearances in 1991, Robson's international career was over.


Robson's major tournament jinx began just before the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

The Manchester United midfielder dislocated a shoulder in one of England's warm-up games and, although he travelled to the finals, he aggravated it after four minutes of the 0-0 draw with Morocco which curtailed his participation.

Bobby Robson's men famously went on to lose 2-1 to Argentina in the last eight.


England's failure to qualify for the 1974 and 1978 World Cup delayed Kevin Keegan's appearance on the biggest footballing stage of all.

That chance should have arrived in 1982, only for Keegan to be hit by a chronic back injury before the finals in Spain.

Bryan Robson, Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan
Robson, Brooking and Keegan all had World Cup injury problems

He was named in the squad, and retained the captain's armband, but managed only 26 minutes of England's critical second-round match against the host nation, which they had to win by two clear goals to advance.

Keegan, who reportedly hired a car and went in search of a specialist he knew from his time in Germany, headed wide from a glorious position as the match ended 0-0 and England were eliminated.

Trevor Brooking was another who never really got the chance to shine at the international top table but, like Keegan, was all set to make his mark in 1982.

Yet injury meant he was an unused substitute for five of England's six matches, coming on with Keegan against Spain and almost breaking the deadlock with a fine run and shot.


With a tally of 44 goals in 57 games, including six hat-tricks, Jimmy Greaves enjoyed a prolific England career but he is always likely to reflect on the 1966 finals with a sense of personal regret.

The Spurs man came into the tournament as England's first-choice striker but injured a shin in their final Group One game against France.

He was replaced by Geoff Hurst for the knockout rounds and, despite returning to fitness in time for the final, he was overlooked by boss Sir Alf Ramsey, who opted to stick with his winning team.

Hurst grabbed a hat-trick as England lifted their one and only World Cup with a 4-2 triumph over West Germany and it was not until 10 June 2009 that Greaves was awarded a winners medal.

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see also
World Cup doubt over Ashley Cole
13 Feb 10 |  Chelsea
Mancini backs Bridge for England
12 Feb 10 |  Man City
Injured Rooney a World Cup doubt
30 Apr 06 |  World Cup 2006
King faces World Cup fitness race
17 Apr 06 |  Internationals
Owen has operation on broken foot
03 Jan 06 |  Newcastle
Neville out of World Cup
03 May 02 |  England
Beckham suffers broken foot
10 Apr 02 |  Football

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