England's World Cup hopes were dealt a major blow last night when David Beckham was diagnosed with a snapped Achilles tendon that ends his hopes of representing his country at fourth consecutive finals.
The 34-year-old was carried off playing for Milan against Chievo in Serie A last night. Sources close to the player said last night that he had snapped the tendon in his left ankle which means that any hope of recovering his fitness in time to make the squad, announced on 1 June, is out of the question.
The Milan coach, Leonardo, said that Beckham has "torn" the tendon. He will have further scans today but the injury looks to be one that will require at least nine months out the game. Beckham is understood to have called his parents last night to tell them that his hopes of being the first Englishman to play in four World Cup finals were over.
The injury took place in the 87th minute of the 1-0 win for Milan in which Beckham had started – the first time he had been in Milan's first XI since the Champions League first leg against Manchester United on 16 February. Beckham was not near another player when it happened and was taken off on a stretcher in the game with his head in his hands.
There were reports that he told pitchside reporters immediately that he thought the ankle was broken. The injury is a very serious one and probably rules Beckham out the Major League Soccer season for Los Angeles Galaxy. There will be questions whether Beckham's all-year round playing schedule have contributed to the injury.
Leonardo said: "Beckham's injury makes us feel terrible. He is an extraordinary guy and this game proves it yet again. I cannot enjoy this evening considering this serious injury. David understood immediately that he had torn his Achilles tendon."
The midfielder Ignazio Abate said "Beckham is not well. To see him suffer like that has really touched us."
It certainly appears to have brought the curtain down on Beckham's 115-cap, 14-year England career. It was thought that the most capped outfield player in the history of the national team would retire after this summer's finals. There must also be doubt over whether he will ever play again professionally.
Beckham has been fortunate with injuries throughout his career although not always when it comes to World Cup finals. He broke a metatarsal playing for Manchester United two months before the 2002 World Cup finals and, although he was in Sven Goran Eriksson's squad, he later admitted that he was not fully fit.
Beckham is playing in his second loan spell at Milan who he joined on the advice of Capello in order that he would be match fit for the tournament. The injury to Beckham is the latest in a nightmare run of injuries and scandals for the England manager that threaten his side's chances at the tournament in South Africa.
The most significant problem facing Capello since his England team qualified for the World Cup with two games to spare has been the sacking of John Terry as captain over his alleged affair with Wayne Bridge's ex-fiancée Vanessa Perroncel and Bridge's subsequent retirement from international football.
The England manager is already concerned about the fitness of the left-back Ashley Cole, the right-winger Aaron Lennon and the centre-back Rio Ferdinand. The latest reports on Cole suggest that he is not making the requisite progress with the left ankle that he fractured on 11 February and he is still unable to put any weight on it.
Ferdinand is back playing again although his back has proved extremely fragile over the last eight months. Lennon has a problem with scar tissue in his groin injury which is not healing. There are also doubts about goalkeeper David James. Glen Johnson is expected to play only third game back from a long-term injury for Liverpool tonight against Portsmouth
It is a sad end for Beckham who has shown willing to fly from his new home in Los Angeles for every England squad he has been selected for, despite often not featuring in matches. His most recent cap came against Belarus in the last World Cup qualifier in October. He was widely-regarded as a certainty for Capello's squad.
It leaves the England manager with huge issues on his right side. Lennon's groin injury has cast doubts over whether he will play again this season. Walcott is not in the Arsenal side. Only Shaun Wright-Phillips is playing regularly. Beckham's injury may open the door to Adam Johnson, the left-footed right-sided winger who scored a crucial equaliser for Manchester City in their 1-1 draw with Sunderland yesterday.