Within the last week alone, there have been enough injury casualties during World Cup prep to construct a winning eleven of crocked footballers.
Rio Ferdinand, Didier Drogba, Holland’s Arjen Robben, Italy’s Andrea Pirlo, Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel, and Portugal’s Nani all look to miss out on the tournament one day away. Fresh injury doubts now surround Spain’s Andres Iniesta, Australia’s Tim Cahill, Brazil’s Julio Cesar, and Switzerland’s Alex Frei. Not to mention, we found out months ago that otherwise certain participants David Beckham, Michael Ballack, and Michael Essien wouldn’t be making the trip.
Blame it on the long, fatiguing domestic seasons for running the players ragged and robbing us & them of some memorable World Cup moments. The most disappointing absence is Drogba as a freak tackle claimed his elbow, of all body parts. The best player on the best African team, there leaves little chance of Ivory Coast progressing out of the “Group of Death” including Brazil and Portugal, now having to rely on raw, markedly inferior replacements Gervinho and Salomon Kalou for bagging goals. Even if Drogba does make it back on the team sheet, it’ll probably be all too late.
Africa’s next best hope will also struggle to cope with their notable absentees. For Nigeria, Mikel was their midfield anchor, as was the case with Ghana and Essien. An unproven Anthony Annan or an in-form Kevin-Prince Boateng may fill the latter’s boots, but with teammates Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah also not in top shape, Ghana’s one true strength is now a glaring weakness.
Robben and Nani present similar conundrums for their respective teams. The former, one of the five best players in the world this past year, and the latter, making strides towards reaching his potential with United, provide their national squads with needed width in 4-3-3 formations. Holland will now push Rafael Van der Vaart wide or hope Eljero Elia can be one of the tournament’s breakout stars, while Portugal may have to keep Cristiano Ronaldo on the wings as opposed to the tempting proposition of him leading the line in the center.
And out of the remaining absentees, the potential loss of Tim Cahill stands apart. The unequivocal, inspirational leader behind Australia, he’s a big-game player as his Everton history proves and perhaps the only one for the Socceroos. As for England, Spain and Brazil, they have the strength in numbers to compensate. Spoiled for choice in those injury-hit departments, the absences might even ease their selection choices.
Yet, in a tournament like this, the little differences down the depth chart could ultimate alter the bigger picture.