John Mikel Obi has been forced out of the World Cup – the fourth Chelsea player struck down by injury in a fortnight.
Mikel “badly bruised an ankle” in his first full-contact training session with Nigeria in remote Richards Bay, 200 miles north of Durban. The blow is believed to have affected his already injured knee.
Mikel, 23, had minor surgery in May but was returning to full fitness on schedule before yesterday’s incident. His demise will encourage debate over the level of strain Chelsea’s players were under this season as they kept Manchester United at bay to re-claim the Premier League crown after a two-year hiatus.
Mikel joins fellow double-winning stars Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast, broke his arm against Japan two days ago), Michael Essien (Ghana, knee and hamstring, ruled out last week) and Michael Ballack (German captain ruled out after Kevin-Prince Boateng’s tackle in the FA Cup final triumph over Portsmouth).
Team official Emmanuel Attah said this morning: "We have dropped Mikel from the World Cup squad after he told the team he did not want to put his career at risk, as his knee injury has yet to fully heal after a recent surgery."
Nigeria drew 1-1 with Colombia last week, leaving Mikel out to allow further recuperation. At the time, their Swedish boss Lars Lagerbeck said from their Essex training camp 1-1 draw with Colombia in London on Sunday in the World Cup warm-up match so as not to put pressure on his injury.
"Mikel only just finished a serious therapy session, so we decided not to take any risk, we didn't want to take a chance."
Nigeria play their final friendly against North Korea in Johannesburg on June 6. They will be able to call up a late replacement – Brown Ideye, who plays for Sochaux in France - as England did this morning after Rio Ferdinand was ruled out by a knee injury yesterday.
Tottenham’s Michael Dawson has arrived in South Africa and as I write, is training at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Complex after taking a “crazy” phone call from coach Fabio Capello yesterday afternoon in London.
I am currently in the press box at the Atteridgeville Super Stadium west of Pretoria, where South Africa will play Denmark in their final pre-tournament friendly in front of a sell-out 30,000 audience.
The Vuvuzelas have started already. South Africa are on a 10-match unbeaten run since the return of Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira to the hottest seat in football last November.
See the awful tackle that broke Didier Drogba's arm: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXF8s3BCpwc