Lennon out as Capello's injury fears loom large

Ferdinand also in doubt as clubs' treatment schedules hit World Cup qualifiers
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The Independent Online

Fabio Capello is fearful of mass withdrawals from his England squad to face Kazakhstan and Andorra at the end of the season after Aaron Lennon became the latest player to indicate that he will not be available for the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. The England manager has already lost David James and Stewart Downing to injury and is concerned that it might persuade more key names to have surgery on long-term problems next month.

Lennon has missed the last two Spurs games with a groin strain that requires an injection to correct it and a subsequent lay-off of two to three weeks. Previously, there was even a possibility that Lennon, along with his Spurs team-mate Tom Huddlestone might play for the England Under-21s in the European Championship in late June but that will now not happen. Huddlestone is also out for the summer after precautionary surgery on his knee.

Downing, as revealed by The Independent yesterday, has a fracture to his foot which will mean he misses Sunday's relegation game against West Ham and the two England matches. Middlesbrough said yesterday that they were not yet able to assess the damage to the foot, sustained in the game against Aston Villa, but Capello's camp has already been told by the club that Downing will be out for 10 weeks. It could also jeopardise the player's hopes of a move away from Middlesbrough.

The only injury that has not come as a surprise to Capello and his assistants is the neck injury to James, their first-choice goalkeeper, which will require surgery on his shoulder. The timing of the operation was agreed by the England camp in consultation with Portsmouth officials in a meeting at the Grove hotel in Watford before the World Cup qualifier against Ukraine on 1 April in order that James, 38, would have the whole summer to recover.

However, there is a very real concern in the Capello camp that the sheer number of players who have already pulled out now – two weeks before the squad is due to meet – could precipitate the big clubs also persuading key players to have surgery on problems now. In particular, there is a concern over the fitness of Rio Ferdinand who has suffered from back and groin problems this season and is by no means certain to be fit after the Champions League final.

In terms of his goalkeepers, Capello already feels that he is down to his last three: Robert Green, Paul Robinson and Scott Carson will be selected for next month, injury permitting. Ben Foster has a thumb injury and last played for Manchester United on 2 May. Joe Hart will not be picked so he can dedicate himself to preparing with Stuart Pearce's Under-21s at the European Championship which begin on 15 June.

As well as Lennon, Downing, James and Foster, the England manager will also be without Phil Jagielka whose cruciate ligament injury means that he is sidelined for the long-term. Jonathan Woodgate, who would have been a natural replacement is also understood to have a problem with his pelvis. It raises the possibility that Capello will once again select Ledley King as he promised to do following the row over the defender's fitness for the last England squad.

The absence of James means that Green will be the favourite to play, which would be his first start for England and his first appearance in a competitive game for his country should he be in goal against Kazakhstan in Almaty on 6 June. Robinson, the former England No 1, has been called up previously by Capello when injuries to other goalkeepers have necessitated it – most recently for the friendly against Germany in November. Yesterday his Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce said Robinson was the "best in the country".

Allardyce said: "He was world-class against Chelsea [on Sunday]. He has come to the forefront over the last 10 games and proved again what an all-round goalkeeper he is. I said it last week and I'll say it again. If Fabio wasn't [at Stamford Bridge], he should have been.

"Paul is back on top of his form and as an Englishman he is the best in the country at the moment. He is right up there with all the other top goalkeepers I've worked with. He'd have seen a much better performance than he did from David James. That lad is on top of his game again.

"He's back to his top end performances, he's shown it consistently over the last eight to 10 games. Even the games we've lost heavily he's stopped us losing by an even greater margin with his performances, like Liverpool and Arsenal."

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