Brown Cup hopes blurred by mishap

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The Independent Football

Wes Brown's hopes of staking a late claim for a World Cup place suffered a set back yesterday when he was the victim of a freak accident as he trained with the England Under-21 squad.

The Manchester United defender had been due to be watched by the England coach Sven Goran Eriksson in last night's Under-21 friendly international with Portugal at Stoke's Britannia Stadium.

However, he had to pull out of the game after being hit in the eye by a ball in training which left him suffering from blurred vision.

Eriksson had hinted at the weekend that Brown could still play a part in his plans in the Far East after his return to action following cruciate ligament, ankle and knee injuries. But this latest mishap will deprive the England coach of watching him in international action before he names his squad for the finals on 7 May.

Andrin Cooper, a Football Association spokesman, said: "It was a freak accident that Wes suffered in training. The ball hit him in the eye and left him with slightly blurred vision so he is taking no part in the game."

Meanwhile, BSkyB may drop their joint rights to screen the FA Cup when the current deal runs out in two years' time. The Sky chief executive Tony Ball has warned that Sky are prepared to drop what he referred to as "lesser competitions" in order to concentrate on premium products such as the Premiership.

Ball's remarks came in a briefing to City analysts, and could herald a drop in income for the FA, who agreed a £400m four-year deal for FA Cup and England matches jointly with Sky and the BBC two years ago. A Sky spokesman said: "This reiterates that we are going to be careful with the rights we choose and careful about the prices we pay."

The satellite broadcaster decided not to bid for the rights to rugby union's Six Nations' tournament two weeks ago, signalling a shift in the market for sport on television.

Sky will stick to the current FA Cup deal but are keener to secure rights for longer-term events to provide subscribers with continuous coverage of their favourite sports, although increasingly consumers are demanding coverage of top-flight leagues. That policy leaves the BBC increasingly able to focus on event television; buying rights for short-term big events such as the FA Cup and the World Cup.

Sky's latest policy change is another sign of the change in the marketplace which has been highlighted so sharply by ITV Digital reneging on their £315m deal with the Football League.