Friendly week sees outbreak of minor injuries at top clubs

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The Independent Football

Just as Pascal Cygan and Roy Keane were looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet at Arsenal and Manchester United this week, they found out the queues in the training-ground canteens won't be shorter after all. With three more players from United and three more from Arsenal yesterday withdrawing from their countries' midweek games, a total of 20 from those two sides will not be travelling on international duty.

A spate of minor injuries immediately prior to friendlies is not unusual. But the drop-out rate this week has been exceptional. This is partly due to packed domestic itineraries. It is also due to the dispensation given by some international managers, including Sven Goran Eriksson, to some club managers, including Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, to effectively "deselect" players. But the trend is making friendlies even more farcical than they have become in the era of full-team substitutions.

The three United players withdrawing from duty yesterday were Ryan Giggs, Roy Carroll and Darren Fletcher. Giggs was reported to have a hamstring strain, though the official United website said it was a groin problem. No one at United was available to clarify whether the hamstring had been strained while the Welsh winger was examining his groin, or vice versa, or neither. Whatever, he will not be facing Hungary tomorrow.

Carroll has a stiff shoulder and will not play for Northern Ireland against Estonia. Fletcher will miss Scotland's match with Romania with a groin strain. The trio, who all played against Arsenal on Sunday, are all likely to be fit for this weekend's FA Cup semi-final against the Gunners.

Other United players who will not be involved in international games this week include Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, who have been "rested" by England, John O'Shea (rested by Ireland) and Rio Ferdinand ("rested" for rather longer by the Football Association). Louis Saha was not picked by France due to him recovering from an injury that did not prevent a substitute appearance against Arsenal.

Over at Highbury, Patrick Vieira (knee) and Robert Pires (Achilles) were withdrawn from France's squad to face the Netherlands while Freddie Ljungberg (who officially has a rib problem) withdrew from the Sweden squad to face England. "Wenger doesn't want Fredrik to play," Lars Lagerback, Sweden's joint-coach, said, adding that he was minded to rest the player anyway.

Arsenal's other international absentees include Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole, who have nagging groin and knee problems respectively and have been allowed to stay away from England duty by Eriksson. Arsenal have also arranged with the Ivory Coast that Kolo Touré need not appear in a friendly. Sylvain Wiltord has an ankle problem that prevented any theoretical call-up by France although a speedy recovery is anticipated. Eat your heart out, Lourdes.

Arsenal and United are far from alone in seeing their players blighted by niggles that have cannily coincided with international week. Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and Ivan Helguera will not play for their countries this week, while Chelsea and others around Europe will also be retaining several players.

Arguably the biggest losers this week are the Europe-based South American players involved in World Cup qualifiers. Under Fifa rules, the designated "friendly" date means national teams can only have access to players 48 hours ahead of games. Hence the likes of Arsenal's Gilberto Silva, Chelsea's Hernan Crespo and Aston Villa's Juan Pablo Angel will all be travelling to South America having played last weekend. Unlike some "injured" colleagues, they are unlikely to play for their clubs next weekend.