The injury to David Beckham's Achilles on Sunday playing for AC Milan has dealt the England World Cup Squad the seemingly usual negative of losing an important player before the biggest of international tournaments.
Beckham's place in the starting 11 of the current England team has not been assured for some time. Fabio Capello appears to be a big fan of Theo Walcott, and to be fair, the young Arsenal flyer has done well for England and is returning to form with Arsenal.
However, Beckham's place in the World Cup squad did appear to be a certainty with his experience, leadership, and dead ball skill on the pitch, a valuable asset for Capello.
The good news is that the England manager does have time to survey his options and decide who should replace Beckham in the World Cup squad and as an alternative to Walcott.
If you look at the makeup of the England World Cup squad and who is pretty much guaranteed to be in it, it would appear that the contenders to take Beckham's place in the squad are battling it out for one spot.
Here is my list of top contenders to fill the winger positions that are not likely to already be in the squad.
Joe Cole was easily one of England's best performers at the last World Cup in 2006 and was a fixture on the left wing at that time.
However, in recent times due to injury and loss of form, the Chelsea playmaker has not been used that much by Capello. Consequently his place on the plane to South Africa was by no means a formality.
Currently out of the Chelsea team and going through contract negotiations, it would appear all is not right with Joe Cole.
The positive for the former West Ham man is that he already has vast international experience and has been to a World Cup before. He can score goals and would provide good flexibility to the midfield options in the squad.
In this writer's opinion, he would be the most likely candidate to join the squad as long as he can regain some sort of form and get a few games for Chelsea before the end of the season.
Verdict: Likely to be on the plane now.
The Tottenham flyer has been in and around the England squad for some time and acted as a more than able deputy for Walcott when he was injured.
For many he is a better player than Walcott, as he provides a more consistent final ball into the box. The speedy winger started the season in fine form and at one point looked the more likely to be picked over Walcott as the speedy option on the right wing.
However, the problem for Lennon is that like Beckham, he is also injured. Unlike Beckham, he does still stand a chance of being fit for the World Cup. But realistically, I think Lennon and Walcott is a one or the other pick, and it would be surprising for Capello to pick both.
For Lennon to make the World Cup in South Africa, he needs to return from injury and return to form and hope that something forces Walcott off the plane.
Verdict: Still holds an outside chance of making it to South Africa.
The diminutive Shaun Wright-Phillips is much in the same mold of both Walcott and Lennon—a fast, pacey winger who can beat people but has struggled to consistently deliver a quality final product.
He has been well used by Capello though, and it would appear that the Italian likes the Man City player. He has good international experience and would certainly add more pace to the England squad.
The problem facing Wright-Phillips is that if everyone was fit and on form, he would likely be the No. 4 choice behind Beckham, Walcott, and Lennon.
I would still take Lennon over Wright-Phillips, as I think he is a better player, but with Lennon currently injured, that would make Wright-Phillips an obvious choice.
The dilemma facing the England manager again is whether or not he wants or needs two speedy flyers for the right wing. As I've already said, I think Capello seems to favor Walcott, so at this stage I would say Wright-Phillips has a lot to do, especially as he is not getting regular games with Man City at the moment.
Verdict: Unlikely to go to the World Cup.
Ashley Young is a consistently good performer for Aston Villa in the Premier League and is a big reason that they have been pushing hard for Europe the last few seasons.
His chances for the national team have been limited, and consequently he is yet to make a big impression on the international stage.
Capello has had more then enough chances to view the young winger but opted not to. That would indicate that the Italian has not been impressed or doesn't think Young is ready yet.
It certainly would be a surprise if Young were picked, but he does have familiarity with a number of players likely to be in the England squad, and he would provide a good option on both the left and right wings.
Verdict: With a strong finish to the season, he could yet make the squad.
Johnson is most definitely the outside candidate, as he is uncapped for the senior England side. If you ignore that, though, the Man City winger would probably be the form player that you would pick at the moment.
He has slipped seamlessly into the Man City side and back into Premier League football after joining from Championship Middlesbrough.
Capello has always insisted he picks his sides based on form, so it will be very interesting to see what happens if Johnson continues his fine form for the rest of the season.
Verdict: Could be the surprise choice in the 2010 squad.
Downing is another former Middlesbrough player who has started to hit form at the right time of the season.
After missing the early part of the season through injury, Downing has returned to the Aston Villa side and made a real difference to the team.
Downing has a quality left foot, a rare commodity in England, and can play on both wings. He has international experience but hasn't featured that much during Capello's reign as manager.
The one thing holding Downing back could be the likely inclusion in the squad of his Aston Villa teammate James Milner. Many, including myself, would view Milner as the better option, and I for one think he is already on the plane to South Africa.
Verdict: Unlikely to go unless there are more injuries.