Fabio Capello, the England manager, received some much-needed good news yesterday when it was confirmed that Chelsea defender Ashley Cole will be fit for the World Cup in South Africa in June.
The news follows a more encouraging prognosis for Wayne Rooney, after Manchester United revealed the striker had suffered "only minor ligament damage" when he turned his ankle during the club's 2-1 defeat to Bayern Munich on Tuesday night. The better news on both Cole and Rooney means Capello should have both players fit and available for England's opening game against the United States on 12 June.
Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti revealed yesterday that Cole's rehabilitation from surgery has progressed better than had been expected, and he hopes to have him back in contention for a first-team place in three weeks' time, which would enable the full-back to play in Chelsea's final three Premier League games of the season.
Ancelotti said yesterday: "Cole will definitely play this season. He will be ready for the World Cup. I've not spoken to Fabio Capello about this but the England staff are in contact with our medical staff. Ashley has been training individually and in 15 days he will be back with the squad. I think he will be ready to play in three weeks."
Cole's recovery has been swifter than was predicted when he suffered the broken ankle in Chelsea's 2-1 defeat to Everton on 10 February. He was expected to be ruled out for three months after undergoing surgery but should now return in plenty of time before Capello has to pick an initial 35-man squad for South Africa on 12 May. The final squad of 23 players must be delivered to Fifa on 1 June.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is expected to detail at his weekly press conference this morning the recovery plan for Rooney. The likelihood is that Ferguson will say that Rooney will be out for four weeks, though the high end of expectations is that it will be six – leaving Rooney with only two league games and a possible Champions League final before England's World Cup countdown begins.
Tottenham Hotspur's Jermain Defoe has recovered from his hamstring injury quicker than expected, and will be in the squad for tomorrow's trip to Sunderland. Defoe injured his hamstring in the 3-1 win over Blackburn last month.
Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said yesterday: "It's great news and I'm really pleased. He's a terrific little striker and a fighter. It's great to have him back so soon."
Defoe may have to be content with a place on the bench at the Stadium of Light as Peter Crouch, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Roman Pavlyuchenko have all scored during his lay-off and Redknapp may opt to keep faith with the in-form trio on Saturday.
Capello is in need of some good news, after injuries to several key players, including David Beckham who misses the World Cup having torn his Achiles tendon on loan at Milan. He has also not given up all hope of Owen Hargreaves being fit, though it seems less likely as the weeks go by. The postponement of a United reserve team game at Burnley has still left him with only 45 minutes of football on his rehabilitation from two knee operations.
Tottenham's Aaron Lennon has not played since December with a groin injury, but is due to return to full training shortly. Capello also has concerns about Manchester City's Joleon Lescott who may play only one or two more league games after partially tearing his hamstring.
England's fit list: Returning players
Veteran Portsmouth goalkeeper missed a fortnight last month with a calf strain before returning for the victory over Hull City.
Bolton centre-back was ruled out for the season with a blood clot in his arm in February but made a surprise return against Manchester United last week.
The Liverpool full-back was sidelined for three months with a knee ligament injury but has shown fine form since his return to action four weeks ago.
Chelsea left-back fractured an ankle during February's defeat at Everton but is nearing a first-team return.
Tottenham striker has missed the last two weeks with a torn hamstring but is likely to return at Sunderland tomorrow.