Fabio Capello's plans for the start of England's Euro 2012 qualifying campaign descended into chaos last night as key players withdrew citing injuries.
The England manager had to delay the announcement of his squad by an hour as his staff tried to determine who remained available and who could be called up in the absence of those definitely out.
Capello has a serious shortage of centre backs going into the clashes with Bulgaria and Switzerland, having lost John Terry as well as Rio Ferdinand to injury. He already knew he was without Wes Brown because of the Manchester United defender's decision to retire from international football earlier this month.
The situation has forced Capello to recall Matthew Upson after dropping him for the recent friendly against Hungary because of his performances at the World Cup, and leaves him going into these two matches with Michael Dawson, Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott, Gary Cahill and Upson as his central defenders.
Scott Carson makes a return to the squad as third-choice goalkeeper behind Joe Hart and Ben Foster. Capello had intended to call on Fulham's David Stockdale, but an injury he suffered at the weekend has forced the England manager to turn to a keeper he has not used in nearly two years. Carson last appeared for England in the friendly against Germany in Berlin in November 2008.
With Frank Lampard also, like Terry, absent through injury - he needs a minor hernia operation while Terry has hamstring and gluteal muscle problems - United's Michael Carrick returns to the squad.
Decision time: Capello has made his choices for the forthcoming Euro qualifiers
In fact, it is only in attack where Capello seems to have received some good news last night. There were concerns over the fitness of the in-form Tottenham pairing of Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch, with it feared that Defoe needed groin surgery while Crouch had a rib problem.
But Capello has got his way with Defoe and both he and Crouch have been cleared to play. They join Wayne Rooney, Darren Bent and Carlton Cole as the strikers in the 24-man squad.
It nevertheless amounted to another demoralising night for Capello, who had to deal with the sudden retirement of Paul Robinson and Brown after naming them in his squad for the friendly against Hungary earlier this month.
England squad Goalkeepers: Scott Carson, Ben Foster, Joe Hart
Defenders: Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole, Michael Dawson, Kieran Gibbs, Phil Jagielka, Glen Johnson, Joleon Lescott, Matthew Upson
Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Steven Gerrard, Adam Johnson, James Milner, Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Ashley Young
Forwards: Darren Bent, Carlton Cole, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Wayne Rooney
The Italian, under so much pressure because of the bitter disappointment of the last World Cup, is painfully aware of how badly he needs to get the Euro 2012 campaign off to a good start - especially when he has come in for further criticism in the last few days because of his interest in recruiting Everton's Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta for England.
Tottenham's Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker of West Ham would have fancied their chances of a call-up in Lampard's absence. Both were part of Capello's original 30-man World Cup squad - and both failed to make the cut again.
Another Tottenham player to be left out was Aaron Lennon. The winger, who was also absent for the friendly against Hungary, failed to win back his place despite a man-of-the-match performance last weekend at Stoke.
There was better news for Manchester City wide men Adam Johnson, who caught the eye in last week's 3-0 defeat of Liverpool, and Shaun Wright-Phillips as they were both included.
The loss of Terry and Lampard is a particularly big blow. 'JT has a different problem than Frank,' said Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti. 'He has a dead leg and he had some problems this week because he has a little hamstring problem.
No choice: A centre back shortage means a recall for Matthew Upson (right)
'So he trained individually. He played because I didn't have another centre back. If I'd had the possibility to give him a rest I would have done, because he did not train so well, and it was a risk to put him in (against Stoke).
'But he is a captain. We needed to have him for this game because I did not have a centre back. John played with gritted teeth. Frank has had his problem since the start of the season.'
On Saturday, a Chelsea spokesman said: 'John Terry has been ruled out of England's next two games due to injuries to his hamstrings and gluteal muscles. John has personally spoken to England's management - Chelsea and England medical staff have also been in touch.
'All agree that John's injuries, that he has carried since pre-season, would benefit from a period of rest and rehabilitation.'
Crouch is said to be struggling with his ribs, while Harry Redknapp clearly has concerns over Defoe. But Capello has applied some pressure and got his way, for now anyway.
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