History of Cup casualties

Nigerian Jon Obi Mikel...another high profile casualty.-AP

Looking back at World Cup history, one finds a mention of so many injuries to key players with widely differing consequences. The period leading up to this tournament has been no better. Over to Brian Glanville.

What is it about World Cups and their infinite casualties? On the very eve of the current competition, we have had a plethora of them. England's talented centre back Rio Ferdinand clashed in training in South Africa in a challenge with Emile Heskey, suffered a very painful knee injury, and was obliged to pull out of the squad, remaining a few days in training camp hobbling about on crutches.

Almost contemporaneously, Arjen Robben, having enjoyed a splendid season on the wings with Bayern Munich, and having just scored two goals in Holland's 6-1 crushing of Hungary in a friendly, limped out of the game with a pulled muscle and thus became a doubtful starter for a team which needs him so badly. Hard to forget just how incisively and menacingly the left-footed Robben figured on the right flank for Bayern Munich in the semifinal and final of the UEFA Champions League.

Didier Drogba, a spearhead for Chelsea and his national team, Ivory Coast, playing in a friendly against Japan, was caught with an inadvertent blow by Japan's Brazilian born centre back Tulio Tanaka, breaking his arm which, though it did not wholly extinguish hope, meant that he, too would be a doubtful starter. And it is impossible to conceive the Ivory Coast as any kind of a force without him.

That the wholly innocent Heskey should have been the immediate cause of Ferdinand's injury was especially ironic in view of the fact that his own selection had been a controversial one. Throughout the English season, Heskey had been an infrequent presence in the Aston Villa attack, seldom scoring. As indeed has been the case in his appearances for England. Hard not to believe that Fabio Capello, the England manager sees him as a kind of valet to Wayne Rooney, the one England attacker of quality and menace. For my part, I'd far rather have Wayne Rooney alone up front with Steven Gerrard just behind him, the role he usually plays with Liverpool.

In the days before the tournament began, Chelsea's young midfielder, John Obi Mikel, was hurt and promptly withdrew from the squad. His Chelsea fellow midfielder, the hugely experienced German international Michael Ballack, had already had to pull out of the tournament, having been badly hurt in the FA Cup final at Wembley in a reckless challenge by the Portsmouth midfielder, Kevin-Prince Boetang.

Looking back at World Cup history, one finds a mention of so many injuries to key players with widely differing consequences. Pele, for example, is widely and justifiably seen as the greatest footballer of all time, a hero of two World Cup finals, as far apart as 1958 and 1970. Yet in the 1962 finals in Chile, he didn't even last two games. In the second of them, at Vina del Mar, the exquisite little coastal resort, he badly pulled a muscle and that was the end of his participation.

Who could replace the irreplaceable? His position went to the 24- year-old left-footed Amarildo, inevitably a wholly different player than Pele. Yet he, anything but overwhelmed, immediately in his own quick, elusive style began scoring important goals. Two of them in Vina del Mar in a 2-2 draw with Spain. In the World Cup final in Santiago against the Czechs, who actually and coolly went ahead, he equalised left-footed from the tightest of angles, then in the second half, twisted his way along the left-hand goal line to set up another Brazilian goal for Zito.

Hungary's celebrated Ferenc Puskas was a member of the Spanish team which confronted the Brazilians; a refugee from Budapest after the 1956 Revolution, he had found his way to Real Madrid and taken on Spanish nationality. But it was as the captain and resplendent inside left of the Hungarian national team that he will always be remembered. Not least for the marvellous goal he got against England at Wembley in 1953, when Hungary destroyed England's unbeaten home record against foreign teams. Pulling the ball back with the sole of his famous and ferocious left foot, he had the England skipper, Billy Right, hurtling past him, as he scored, “Like a fire engine going to the wrong fire,” wrote Geoffrey Green, so memorably, in ‘The Times'. But the following year, in the World Cup finals in Switzerland, there was arguably a case for saying that Puskas had lost his team the final against Germany. When, in that madman's fly trap of a competition, the two teams had met early on, Hungary winning 8-3, Puskas was kicked by the German centre-half, Werner Liebrich, and ruled out of the subsequent Hungarian games. Yet by switching the left winger Zoltan Czibor to inside left and readjusting the attack, Hungary swept through to the final in style.

Puskas now, as captain and the major influence of the team, insisted that he should play, although there were clear doubts about his fitness. So play he did, forcing Hungary to readjust an attack which had been doing so well without him. In the final in Berne, it quickly became clear that this was not a fully fit Puskas; attacks broke down on him. Even if there were those who believed that when near the end he raced through for what seemed an equalising goal at 3-3, he should never have been given offside by the Welsh linesman, Mervyn Griffiths, and the English referee, Bill Ling. So Hungary lost. As for Brazil in 1962, the loss of Pele was largely compensated by the amazing form of their sublimely unorthodox right winger, Garrincha, who now modulated into an all-court player, scoring goals from corners with his head, getting another in the semifinal against Chile from far out with his supposedly weaker left foot. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, as they say.

And what of the case of Gordon Banks, a supreme England goalkeeper, maker of one of the finest saves of any World Cup in Guadalajara in 1970 when he tipped Pele's point blank header to safety? Was he deliberately poisoned before the Leon quarterfinal versus West Germany? As he has emphasised to me, he ate and drank exactly what the rest of the squad did at dinner the night before, yet he alone went down with an infection, which so expensively kept him out of the England game. Who was responsible?