Wayne Rooney out for two to three weeks - Ferguson
Rooney leaves hospital on crutches
England striker Wayne Rooney could return for Manchester United as early as 17 April for the Premier League clash against Manchester City.
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson said the player would recover in "two to three weeks" from ankle ligament damage.
But in a best-case scenario he could play in their last four league matches and the Champions League semi-finals.
"The nation can stop praying," said Ferguson, referring to initial fears Rooney could have missed the World Cup.
The striker is certain to miss
United's next three matches
at the very least, starting with Saturday's hugely important league clash against title rivals Chelsea at Old Trafford.
United then face Bayern Munich in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final next Wednesday, and will also be without Rooney for the Premier League trip to Blackburn on 11 April.
We are relieved. It could have been worse given the way he hobbled off
Sir Alex Ferguson
But the 24-year-old could be available to face either Lyon or Bordeaux in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals on 21 April, should United advance to the last four, by which time he might have begun his comeback in the Manchester derby four days earlier.
England fans breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday when a Manchester United statement revealed Rooney had suffered only "minor" ligament damage despite leaving Germany on crutches after an awkward injury suffered in Tuesday's first leg against Bayern.
Ferguson admitted he was relieved to discover that Rooney had suffered "no bone damage or serious ligament damage" after twisting his right ankle on landing after Bayern's Mario Gomez had trodden on his left foot.
"We are relieved," said the Scot. You are hoping when you send him for a scan you get some good news, and it could have been worse given the way he hobbled off.
"But it's out of the way, we can put it to one side and get on with our job on the pitch."
England fans can now expect Rooney, who has scored 34 goals for United this season and contributed nine to England's qualifying campaign, to be available for their friendly against Mexico on 24 May at Wembley.
England's first World Cup game in South Africa is on 12 June against the USA in Rustenburg.
In Rooney's absence, Ferguson confirmed he will deploy Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov, who has scored 12 times this season, in the lone striker role against Chelsea on Saturday and Bayern next Wednesday.
"Berbatov's form has come great at the right time," the manager said. "It is always hard to leave a player of his ability out of important games, and I am sure he can thrive on [the responsibility]. He is experienced enough to be able to handle that."
Also primed to play a bigger role in the coming weeks is teenage striker Federico Macheda, who has been back in full training for a month after an injury-plagued season.
The 18-year-old shot to prominence with a sensational injury-time winner against Aston Villa last year before grabbing another winner at Sunderland six days later as United went on to win the Premier League title.
John O'Shea and Owen Hargreaves have trained very well. They are not far away.
Sir Alex Ferguson
"He is a terrific talent and can certainly play a big part," Ferguson said. "He was sub at Bolton [last Saturday], he will be sub again tomorrow [against Chelsea] and he will be sub on Wednesday [against Bayern]."
There was further good news for United fans as Ferguson suggested Owen Hargreaves and John O'Shea could soon be back in action.
Hargreaves has been out of first-team action for 19 months with a series of knee problems but has recently been playing matches for the reserves and training with the first team.
O'Shea has been missing since suffering complications in his recovery from a dead leg sustained in the Republic of Ireland's World Cup play-off defeat to France in November.
"John O'Shea and Owen Hargreaves have trained very well with the first team," Ferguson added.
"They are not far away and I may use one of them as substitute tomorrow [Saturday] and the other on Wednesday.
"John O'Shea in particular has done a lot of work. The boy has come on terrifically well in the last two or three weeks.
"If I include one tomorrow and one on Wednesday it will give them the confidence that they are back. That is what they need."
Given that Hargreaves is not a member of the Champions League squad, he is the one expected to be on the bench against Chelsea.
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