England's troubled Euro 2012 finals campaign received a further blow last night with the news that the forward Darren Bent is unlikely to feature because of injury.
Bent ruptured his ankle ligaments in Aston Villa's goalless draw at Wigan Athletic on Saturday and, after visiting a specialist in London yesterday, was told he will be sidelined for a minimum of 10 weeks.
The 28-year-old was said to be devastated last night. Twice he has missed out on appearing at World Cup finals as provisional squads were cut down to their final number.
Bent has emerged as one of the Premier League's most consistent goalscorers in recent seasons following big-money moves to Spurs, Sunderland and Aston Villa, and his likely absence is another major loss for England. Even if Bent were to return in May, he would have just a week to prove his fitness for the finals in Poland and Ukraine.
Managerless England are already without Wayne Rooney for the first two group games in the finals, against France and Sweden, as he serves the suspension for his needless red card against Montenegro in the final qualifying game of the campaign.
Whoever the manager is by the time the finals start in June will be desperately short of experienced firepower. England face the Netherlands in a friendly at Wembley tomorrow night with only Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Fraizer Campbell as recognised strikers. The trio have yet to score a goal at international level.
Bent's injury opens the door further for a final fight for the remaining striking places with Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Bobby Zamora and Andy Carroll needing to show they can emerge as genuine options.
Carroll's Liverpool team-mate Stewart Downing believes the £35m striker has shown the form in recent weeks to be given a further opportunity on the international stage.
"Yes, I think there is [a place for him in the squad]," Downing said. "He's played before, he's scored for England and he's done well. He needs to keep working hard and playing well for Liverpool and he'll get his chance again." Downing added of his team-mate Carroll: "He's been playing very well. He's stepped up it up with some big performances. I'm sure he's probably disappointed he's not in [the squad]. I'm sure he's looking to the Euros thinking probably he's got a chance of playing, but for Andy he just has to keep playing well and hope Stuart [Pearce] takes note of it.
"The team [at Liverpool] is starting to gel and things are coming into play a little more. He's been a big part of the team in the last few weeks, creating goals and making himself a handful. On his day he's a handful for anyone.
"I think it was unfair [when Fabio Capello questioned his lifestyle]. That's not the Andy I know. With Andy a lot of questions are asked of him but from what I know of him, he's a quiet lad. He does his work at Liverpool and I don't think he's caused any problems at all.
"Things can get blown out of proportion a little bit. He's a young man, he's learning the game, he's learning ways in life. You make mistakes along the way but from what I've known of him at Liverpool he's been no problem at all."
Of more immediate concern is the fact that England have only a temporary manager so near to a major finals and have yet to decide a captain. Manchester City's midfielder James Milner, who is in the England squad for tomorrow's friendly at Wembley, admitted yesterday that the players are prepared to back another foreign appointment, despite the expensive failure and the communication problems of the Capello reign.
Capello's £6 m-a-year tenure ended dramatically earlier this month amid a shock resignation following a clash with the FA over the John Terry captaincy row.
There had been an assumption that an English manager – with Tottenham's Harry Redknapp still the odds-on favourite – would follow Capello, but the FA cast doubt on that policy when the organisation's chairman, David Bernstein, said recently that the new manager would "not definitely be English".
Such an admission has given the FA leeway as it looks to find a way forward – Stuart Pearce will take charge for the friendly with the Netherlands tomorrow – and names such as Jose Mourinho, Martin O'Neill and Arsène Wenger certainly have the CVs to merit interest from the game's governing body.
Milner, who also admitted he would like to be offered the similarly vacant captaincy, said the current crop of England players would have no problem if the FA does decide to emulate its appointments of Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson by looking for someone from abroad.
"It's an England team full of England players but as players you want the best man for the job," Milner said. "If that's English, then great, but if not, that's a decision for the FA and they'll pick the best person for the job.
"Everyone has their own views but as a player you just want the best people you can. That is from the manager to the physios to the kit man, you just want the best person in charge, but it's not up to the players. It's the FA's decision. Hopefully, if it's English, then great.
"Nothing's changed for us as players [following Capello's resignation] as a unit. We just want to go out there and win football games.
"Whoever is leading us into the tournament as manager, they are going to want to do as well as they can and win football matches as well, so that's the thing we have in common," Milner added.