Leading article: The foot factor

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When did "metatarsal" become synonymous with a common or garden foot? We suspect that this refinement of the English language can be dated, with absolute accuracy, to 9 April 2002, when the England captain, David Beckham, broke the second metatarsal bone in his left foot, 54 days before England's opening World Cup match.

Four years later and it is déjà vu all over again. Six weeks before England's opening game in this year's World Cup, Wayne Rooney is a doubtful prospect to start, having fractured a metatarsal bone in his right foot during Manchester United's defeat at Chelsea on Saturday. Rooney may not be England captain, but the tempestuous young star embodied his country's footballing hopes just as surely as Beckham did four years ago. What he lacks in charisma he more than makes up for in talent, and he was set for a scintillating World Cup debut in the land of England's oldest football adversaries.

The shocked silence as Rooney was stretchered off the pitch said it all. Within a split second of the fateful tackle came the universal realisation that it was not the Premiership title, or even Rooney's future, that was in danger, but the fortunes of the national team in Germany. We are now in for weeks of frenzied speculation, expert analysis and medical bulletins. Will England start without Rooney - and possibly Michael Owen, his partner up front? Can England progress to the quarter-finals without the Boy Wonder? And, most crucially, what medical miracle will be required to heal the fractured metatarsal - otherwise known as Rooney's injured foot - in time for our hero to score in Germany?

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