Good news for Middlesbrough as Boateng avoids serious knee injury

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The Independent Football

Reports in the Dutch media suggested serious knee ligament damage, but inquiries have revealed Boateng has been able to return to training with no ill-effects, although the situation of Barcelona midfielder Van Bommel appears to be less favourable.

"George's injury is by no means as bad as was first feared and he managed to train today," a Boro spokesman said.

"He had a knock on his knee and was taken back to the team hotel for checks, but by the time he got there, it had eased considerably. He felt fine this morning, so he was able to train."

The news will be a massive boost to McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager, who has just seen his £5m signing return to the international scene after producing some excellent performances for the Teesside club since his move from Aston Villa during the summer of 2002.

McClaren is also currently away on international duty with England, but will have been anxious to check on one of his key men after learning of his mishap.

Boateng and captain Gareth Southgate have arguably been the two most influential players of McClaren's reign and he knows keeping both fit is a must if Boro are to achieve their dream of a top-six Premiership finish this season.

Indeed, the manager himself has pointed to the injury the Dutchman suffered in December last year when he broke a bone in his foot as the day on which Boro's charge towards the Champions' League suffered a fatal blow.

Boateng missed a total of 18 games, 12 of them in the Premiership, as Boro slipped off the pace, and his return at the beginning of April coincided with an eight-match run to the end of the campaign which brought just one defeat - at home to Arsenal - as the Teessiders clinched the final Uefa Cup place with a last day draw away against Manchester City.

McClaren has a ready-made replacement in Brazilian Doriva, although Boateng's drive would have been badly missed had his injury resulted in a lengthy lay-off.

His central midfield partnership with Bolo Zenden was a feature of the club's play last season, and he, Gaizka Mendieta and new signing Fabio Rochemback have worked hard to establish a rapport in a new 3-5-2 formation over recent weeks.