As the excitement grows for the start of the World Cup, the sad news is that there's a whole host of world-class players who won't be playing in this year's tournament. Most, it seems, have gotten injured in the run up to the Cup, so here's a list of some of the top players you likely won't be seeing this month. Some of the names (as noted) are hobbled with injuries, but still expected to play at some point in the tournament. If the walking wounded could make up their own squad, they might just win the whole darn thing.
Didier Drogba and Michael Essien: We still don't know if Drogba (pictured) will be able to play after suffering a broken elbow in a tune-up match for Ivory Coast. With their first match against Portugal on June 15, Ivory Coast has until 24-hours before to replace him on their official roster. Make no mistake, the striker is quite possibly the most important figure in African soccer, and the first World Cup on African soil being played without him just doesn't seem right.
The same goes for Essien. Ghana's top player was lost with a knee injury last week. That, of course, hasn't tempered their confidence as striker Asamoah Gyan thinks they can still make a run without Essien. From The Telegraph:
"We have an all-round team," he said. "I'll take you back to Angola where we lost some players but the team was able to make the final. As a group we are okay but we lost him (Essien) so we just have to concentrate on the future."
John Obi Mikel: The Nigerian was to be counted on for yet another African nation hoping to perform well on its own continent. It seems Mikel may have pulled himself out of the tournament:
His reasoning being that, having had surgery on his knee in April (or was it May?) following injury sustained in a Premier League game against Bolton Wanderers at the Bridge, he didn't want to risk aggravating the injury by playing at the Mundial. 'It is the same knee and I did not want to risk any further damage, also I think it is in the best interest of the team for me to withdraw rather than waste a slot'.
Michael Ballack: What a terrible few weeks for one of the top midfielders of the last decade. First Ballack hurt his ankle in the FA Cup final for Chelsea, knocking him out of the World Cup. Today he found out that Chelsea will not extend his contract. He went from one of the top players in the world to a 33-year old midfielder with a bad ankle and no team. The Germans are all of the sudden a very young squad without Ballack. Could that be to their advantage? (Seriously: is every injured player from Chelsea?)
David Beckham: Speaking of old midfielders with leg problems, David Beckham will likely get more face time on TV than most players in the World Cup, it will all just be coming from the bench. It's interesting to think that Beckham wasn't even a lock to make the English squad last year, so perhaps his injury made life easier for Fabio Capello.
Rio Ferdinand: Ferdinand is one player whose injury definitely did not make Capello's life easier. Ferdinand took over the English captaincy after John Terry was stripped of it for being a philanderer. That role now goes to Steven Gerard, but who will fill Ferdinand's spikes on the back line could be something of a concern for England.
Nani: Here's the guy who could have been the next household name. Nani, already playing for Manchester United, could have used a great World Cup to propel him to Ronaldo-like status. Instead, after hurting his shoulder, he'll be watching someone else become a star.
Lassana Diarra: The French midfielder is such a blow to their squad that they have to change their formation on the field. He's out with instestinal issues. Ouch.
Salvador Cabanas: I'll admit I don't know much about Cabanas, so I'll leave it to the folks at The Shin Guardian:
Cabanas, really? Just shy of the top of the list? That’s right. Paraguay is a sneaky team. One that dealt Brazil one of it’s only two losses in qualifying. The kicker, Paraguay played down one for nearly the entire 2nd half.
The Club America striker injured in a nightclub shooting was the emotional leader and talisman for Paraguayan team that was stoic in the back and just needed some of Cabanas mustard in the front to jumpstart the attack.
Andrea Pirlo: Mauro Camoranesi has made it back for Italy, but it looks like Pirlo's calf strain could keep him out of the entire group stage. One has to wonder if that decision would be the same if Italy's group was a bit more challenging.
Arjen Robben: The Netherlands is a trendy pick to win the entire World Cup, but it will be a tough task without the likes of Robben. That said, the winger seems to be okay after injuring his leg in a friendly a few days ago. He may just miss the first group match.
Everyone on Spain: Spain may have the most talented roster on the planet, but can anyone stay healthy? First it was Fernando Torres who was supposed to miss the entire tournament but is now fine. Now Andres Iniesta has a thigh injury that could be an issue. Of course, to replace Iniesta's playmaking ability, Spain can use Cesc Fabregas who missed the end of Arsenal's season with a crack in his fibula. The team is amazing, and deep, if they can have enough players to stay healthy.
Charlie Davies: Technically Davies should be included on the list below of players who weren't chosen for their teams, not players who have been injured and unable to play. Davies thinks that he's able to play, but Bob Bradley didn't agree, choosing not to bring Davies into camp. Still, if you saw what Davies was able to do against top teams like Spain and Brazil in the Confederations Cup, you know his speed will be missed.
Theo Walcott was left off the England roster, despite being fit enough to train. Ronaldinho wasn't even given that chance for Brazil as he was left off the preliminary roster. Karim Benzema wasn't picked for France, who now seems in complete tumult.
We've mentioned the likes of Giuseppi Rossi for Italy before, but he was left off the team with the likes of Luca Toni and Fabio Grosso. Italy is also without (the internationally retired) Alessandro Del Piero, Marco Materazzi and Francesco Totti.
The thing of it all, is that for as many great players that are not playing, there are even more greats who are. And, as is always the case at the World Cup, someone we never expected will become a new household name.