John Terry was last night ruled out of England's crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Estonia tomorrow in what is a major blow for his manager Steve McClaren. More seriously, the England captain's knee problems mean he is also now a doubt for the even bigger game against Russia on Wednesday.
As The Independent revealed yesterday, Terry felt the pain in his knee during the second of two training sessions on Wednesday and limped off the pitch. He was sent for a scan at Chelsea's Cobham training ground yesterday afternoon but the knee was so badly bruised it was difficult for the England medical staff to determine the seriousness of the damage. He will stay with the squad and will be re-assessed on Monday before the squad fly to Moscow.
The scan on Terry took place with England and Chelsea medical staff present and they agreed that the swelling on his knee would have to go down before they could make a full judgement. However, the injury was not the result of a specific collision or incident, it was a problem that would have surfaced at some point regardless. Unfortunately for McClaren it was before the two biggest games of his regime so far.
The assessment on Monday will give FA and Chelsea doctors an indication as to whether Terry has a chance of playing in Moscow. The early signs are that it could be a loose piece of cartilage which may require a minor operation so he is a very serious doubt for that game too. Either way, on Monday there is sure to be an interesting debate in prospect if Chelsea and the FA's medical opinions differ on whether Terry is fit to play against Russia. With an injury of this kind, where swelling is a problem, a long flight to Moscow would not be helpful.
The loss of Terry is more serious for the second game than the Estonia tie, which should – McClaren hopes – be a straightforward victory. The major problem with losing Terry for such a high-pressure game against accomplished opponents is finding a replacement who can be relied upon to perform. On the artificial surface of the Luzhniki stadium, with Russia fighting for their lives in the competition, it will be a serious test.
Sol Campbell is the natural replacement and it is telling that McClaren has not chosen to call up anyone to replace Terry despite having already lost Wes Brown at the start of the week. The Portsmouth defender did miss the first session of the week with Achilles problems but the indications seem to be that he is ready to make a comeback for the first time since playing as a substitute for England against Sweden at the 2006 World Cup.
The 33-year-old Campbell made his feelings quite clear about the lack of "respect" which McClaren demonstrated when he dropped him from his first ever England squad in August last year – via a voicemail on his mobile. Campbell was called back into the England squad for the Germany friendly at the start of the season but had to pull out with injury.
Campbell also dropped out of the last squad to face Israel and Russia last month with injury and McClaren will hope that the veteran of 69 caps is a bit more robust this time. There will be few more opportune occasions than tomorrow and Wednesday for Campbell to show English football that his international career was ended prematurely – he has never lost faith in his ability to play at that level.
Beyond Campbell there is precious little cover for Terry. Playing Micah Richards at centre-back against Russia – when he has had just one half against Germany at international level – would be a risk, although not unthinkable. Terry himself was famously picked to face Turkey four years ago in a similar high-stakes Euro 2004 qualifier in Istanbul. Despite the edgy atmosphere – and it being only his fifth cap – he came through with flying colours in the 0-0 draw.
The Russia game will be intense but it certainly will not be warm with temperatures in Moscow last night hitting -1C. The England players will have the option of wearing tights – a consignment of which the FA have ordered from their kit suppliers Umbro to combat the low temperatures. On Monday they will train at a school in Altrincham, near Manchester, that has an identical artificial pitch to the Luzhniki.
McClaren's mood was not improved yesterday when a picture of his tactics board was printed in a national newspaper, detailing the positions he asks his players to take up at set-pieces. The whiteboard was understood to have been left in the home changing room at Wembley and was on display for anyone who took the stadium's tour. Providing that McClaren is planning to line up the same way on Wednesday there will not be any surprises in store for the Russia coach, Guus Hiddink.
The final training session takes place today at Arsenal's London Colney training ground with Gareth Barry ahead of Frank Lampard in the pecking order in the centre of midfield. Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen will start in attack. Today will also be the first chance that McClaren has to try out Campbell – and Richards – in the centre of defence with the first team. Everton's Joleon Lescott is the other option but – as yet uncapped by the senior England team and run ragged by Steven Gerrard in training on Tuesday – he is likely to stay on the bench.