BY NEAL MALONE
With the 2010 World Cup in South Africa exactly 4 months away, the feeling of excitement is finally palpable amongst soccer fans all over the world. Some are looking forward to what will be the tournament’s most complete TV coverage in the history of the tournament. Others, if they’re fortunate enough, are anticipating their trip to South Africa to watch the world’s most elite national soccer teams compete against each other on an unprecedented stage.
The fans are ready.
However, as the World Cup edges closer, the feeling of anticipatory jubilance amongst fans is not shared by everyone. In fact, there are at least 32 men I can think of that are pretty stressed out right now, holding their collective breath until the club season ends. That’s right, the coaches of each national team competing in the World Cup have to wait, in most cases, until early-mid May to find out who made it through their club season without getting seriously injured.
What is even more intriguing about the remaining games left in club campaigns is who is playing against each other in these leagues. Take Landon Donovan of the USA and Ashley Cole of England, for example. Yesterday, the two were pitted against each other in an English Premier League game between Donovan’s Everton and Cole’s Chelsea. How is that significant? Well, the USA is set to play England in the group stage of the World Cup in 4 months. Don’t you think it would be “interesting” if one of them were to get injured going against each other this close to kickoff in South Africa?
I sure do…and that is exactly what happened yesterday. Donovan fairly challenged Cole for the ball in the early part of the 2nd half. However, while Donovan clearly wasn’t trying to deliberately hurt Cole, the English international emerged from the battle with a serious injury…a broken ankle! The early diagnosis suggests that Cole will miss up to 3 months, but that he should be fine come World Cup time. Nonetheless, it provides England manager Fabio Capello with a horrifying dilemma. What if Cole’s rehab doesn’t go well? What if he does return, but isn’t in “Cup-worthy” shape in time? All of these questions are nightmares national coaches are trying to avoid at this stage in the game.
There are cases like Cole’s that are bound to happen before the club seasons end. Hypothetically, what if Brazil’s Dani Alves was to take out Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo on the wing during the Barcelona/Real Madrid match on April 11? An act like that would give the Portugal coach a heart attack (Portugal was stuck in the “Group of Death” with Brazil and Ivory Coast).
Whatever the case may be, serious injuries so close to the World Cup pile the stress on coaches and devastate the team’s fans. The second part to that statement is the reason why I believe Landon Donovan should be prepared to hear a few choice words from England fans in the coming weeks. Oh yeah, and that push he got last game? It may turn into a slide tackle next game. England as a country has no greater passion than their “football.” So even though Donovan’s challenge on Cole wasn’t vicious, I think it is USA coach Bob Bradley that needs to start counting down the days until Donovan returns to the L.A. Galaxy from loan. It isn’t going to get any easier or any less physical for Landon across the pond.
It’s not like the USA hasn’t been hit with their share of injuries leading up to the World Cup either. Fulham’s Clint Dempsey, Milan’s Oguchi Onyewu, and Sochaux’s Charlie Davies are all American players who are going to need every second of recovery time before they will to return to their true soccer capabilities. Add to them the risks of more Americans getting hurt playing overseas and yep, you have one stressed-out Bob Bradley.
As the season continues on and more World Cup opponents square off on the club level, several national team coaches are bound to be met with the same injury dilemmas that Bradley and Capello have encountered. Let’s just all hope that by the time the tournament rolls around, we as spectators get to see the healthy versions of the world’s most elite players.