Sven-Goran Eriksson's worst fears were realised yesterday when Steven Gerrard was ruled out of the World Cup.
Gerrard visited a specialist on Monday and scans have since confirmed the need for surgery on his groin injury. The 21-year-old will undergo an operation later this week and has ruled himself out of contention for the finals in Japan and South Korea.
"The rehabilitation period for this sort of operation is six weeks, so obviously I'm going to miss the World Cup which is a massive disappointment," Gerrard said. "However, I need to get myself right as I wouldn't have been able to do myself or the team justice in Japan. In the short term it's a big blow, but I'm only 21 and confident this surgery means I'll be involved in other major tournaments for the national side in the future.
"I want to send all the England lads my best wishes for the tournament and let them know I'll be cheering them on from home. My priority now has to be to get myself fit for the start of next season with Liverpool."
Gerrard limped off after 32 minutes of the first half during Liverpool's final league game of the season on Saturday, the 5-0 win over Ipswich which secured second place in the Premiership and a place in the Champions' League.
It was initially thought that the injury was not serious and Gerrard sat on the bench for the remainder of the game.
"It's disappointing for Steven and it is disappointing for me because you want to have your players going to that kind of competition," said Gérard Houllier, Gerrard's manager at Liverpool. "Going to the World Cup he would have gained a lot, he would have brought home more experience and more maturity, but it's just disappointing that he can't be there. I don't think it brings him back in terms of career because he has to get the groin problem sorted out.
"I didn't want him to go and have the same kind of competition he had two years ago at Euro 2000 where he had to pull out through injury. Steven will have his chance. It is important not to forget that he is only 21."
Gerrard has been the driving inspiration for Liverpool this season, missing 14 games, the longest spell out being four games in February. The groin has been a constant worry, but careful treatment has got him through 45 first-team matches this season. But the fear was that it would not cope with the condensed pressure of matches in a major tournament.
"I am obviously very disappointed for Steven and for England," Eriksson said. "The important thing now is for Steven to have a successful operation on his groin so he is available for Liverpool and England next season. We wish him a speedy recovery."
Eriksson must hope that Manchester United's Nicky Butt, who damaged knee ligaments in training earlier this month, is fit – though the Swede may turn to Bayern Munich's Owen Hargreaves to fill the void in England's engine room.