England depart under gloom of injury cloud

Dyer and Gerrard unlikely to meet Eriksson's fitness deadline for World Cup but Beckham prognosis lifts flagging spirits
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The Independent Football

In the context of recent events, England's departure to Dubai yesterday afternoon, for the first leg of their World Cup preparation, must be regarded as a success. No one pulled a muscle lifting their bags onto the weighing machine at check-in, and no one broke a metatarsal tripping on the aircraft steps.

Nevertheless, the knowledge that neither Steven Gerrard nor Kieron Dyer were on board meant the party departed Luton Airport under a metaphorical cloud as well as a meteorological one. David Beckham did ease the gloom with a personal assessment that he was "95 per cent" sure of playing in the opening tie, against Sweden on 2 June, but otherwise the only sunshine was provided by the wide-eyed joy of Danny Murphy and Trevor Sinclair, the probable beneficiaries of Gerrard and Dyer's misfortune.

Neither are yet sure of inclusion as Sven Goran Eriksson has given the injury victims until the weekend, when the party move on to South Korea, to prove they will be fit. However, neither seem likely to meet that deadline.

Dyer was yesterday undergoing treatment in Newcastle hoping for a medical miracle. His agent, Jonathan Barnett, and his friend, Rio Ferdinand, said Dyer remained optimistic despite damaging his knee ligaments. "I spoke to him this morning and he thinks he has a good chance," said Ferdinand before embarking at Luton Airport. Barnett said: "The doctors are not very hopeful but he heals quickly and is a very determined man."

Barnett, who said Dyer may take legal action against Tahar El Khalej, the Southampton defender whose reckless tackle caused the injury, added: "He won't go unless he knows for certain he will be fit in time."

Meanwhile Gerrard, who has suffered a recurrence of his groin injury, visited a specialist in Belgium. An operation may be required and his manager at Liverpool, Gérard Houllier, admitted: "I don't think Steven will play in the World Cup. It wouldn't be fair on anyone for him to go out there and play one game and then miss the rest of the competition."

Sympathy came from Michael Owen, a team-mate since the pair were 12. "It'll be a bitter blow if he is out because he really has something to give on the world stage," Owen said.

"We were together last night [Sunday] as Liverpool had an end-of-season dinner and he was a bit down. When he went off on Saturday I just assumed we were being protective of him. It was not as if he had to get stretchered off. He wasn't even limping."

Recalling the same moment Murphy said: "We've seen him go off quite a lot and you do worry because he's such a massive player for England. Him being a pal as well, you feel for him. He still has a little bit of hope but it's not looking good."

On his own subsequent inclusion Murphy added: "It's difficult because other people's misfortune is why I'm here but it's up to me to grab the opportunity. I was not going to Dubai before because we [Murphy, Houllier and Eriksson] felt if I was out there and then sent home it would be a bigger blow than being on stand-by in England. Now I'm in the squad and looking forward to it. I didn't know whether to be happy or sad when I was put on stand-by but the way football is with injuries you know there is always a chance."

So it has proved. But while injuries may be a fact of footballing life the timing, noted Beckham, was cruel. "They have been devastating," he said. "Gary [Neville], Steve and Kieron are all main players. But we have a young and talented squad and we're not feeling sorry for ourselves. We're not the only ones – the French are missing Robert Pires."

Beckham said he will particularly miss Neville. "Whenever I have a problem, small or large, he is the first person I go to when I'm not at home," said Beckham. "That is what I will miss. I will have to pick up the phone and wake him up at five in the morning instead."

The England captain added that his own rehabilitation was progressing well. "I ran for the first time on Saturday. My foot ached a little afterwards but that is to be expected. I'll be kicking a ball in a week-and-a-half. I'm aiming for the first World Cup game, not the friendlies. I could break it again if I rushed it. I've been out five weeks and put on some weight but it won't be a problem getting it off."

The seniors were not alone in being depleted with Ledley King and Michael Carrick pulling out of David Platt's squad for the European Under-21 championships that open on Thursday. Martin Taylor, of Blackburn, replaces King who has an ankle problem while no replacement has been named for the West Ham midfielder.

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