Stars hope to avoid Montolivo World Cup woe
Italy midfielder Riccardo Montolivo saw his dreams of World Cup glory ended cruelly in a nondescript friendly against Ireland and he may not be the last big star to suffer a similar fate.
Colombia are praying that their talismanic striker Radamel Falcao will win his battle to be fit, Spain have concerns over their Brazil-born marksman Diego Costa, Uruguay too are waiting on last season's leading scorer in the English Premier League Luis Suarez and France on winger Franck Ribery.
Montolivo was joined on the sidelines of football's global showpiece by two other players as Mexico midfielder Luis Montes went from the joy of scoring in the friendly against Ecuador to the despair minutes later of suffering a serious leg fracture.
Ghanaian central defender Jerry Asaminko will also have to sit at home and watch his compatriots perform after the term 'play to the final whistle' came agonisingly true as he broke an ankle in the third minute of time added on of their 1-0 defeat by Holland.
However, while the respective injuries are devastating for the players, who may never again get another chance to play in the finals, it can equally be so for their team-mates and their morale.
Montolivo's was a case in point as Italy coach Cesare Prandelli -- who also has doubts over Montolivo's replacement Alberto Aquilani who went off injured in the first-half -- highlighted after the 0-0 draw with the Irish.
"We saw the players inside. Everyone is broken and really sad about what happened.
"Montolivo is a key player for this squad. He is a point of reference not only on the pitch but off it for his behaviour.
"He has such a good attitude. I think all the lads were really shocked by what happened."
The same could be said for the morale of the other injury doubts.
While Falcao has been a major doubt since January his absence would be a major blow also to morale for his team-mates.
The 28-year-old is so pivotal to Colombia's hopes -- though they have a relatively weak group with goalshy Greece, Japan and the ageing but talented Ivory Coast -- that coach Jose Pekerman has said they will wait till the last minute to see if he makes it.
Frustrating for both country and player is that Falcao, who has scored 20 goals in 51 international appearances, tore his cruciate ligaments in a game he could easily have been allowed to miss by Ligue 1 side Monaco, a French Cup game against an amateur side.
"We will wait until the last minute of the last day," said Pekerman earlier this week.
It has also been the attitude adopted by Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez with regard to Suarez, who injured his knee in training and underwent an operation.
"Things with Luis will depend on how things go with his knee. Our main concern is the player's health," Tabarez said this week, adding that he hoped the forward's "fitness will permit him to participate."
Ribery is crucial to France's hopes of erasing the nightmares of 2010 where the squad -- including the Bayern Munich star -- returned home in disgrace after going on strike and then going out in the first round.
However, the 31-year-old, who made a better impression in the 2006 edition when they reached the final, has not trained with the French squad since joining up with them and coach Didier Deschamps has not been able to ease doubts about his key player.
"He grits his teeth, he puts up with the pain. He could do team training and even play. But if it is to play and not be free enough, that is not going to resolve the problem," said Deschamps.
"Antoine (Griezemann and the most likely player to start if Ribery is unfit) has qualities, but Franck Ribery is Franck Ribery. It is as though (Cristiano) Ronaldo was not available for Portugal and the journalists asked his replacement to be a Ronaldo," he added.
So much time and energy was put into ensuring Costa would be eligible to play for Spain that to lose the 25-year-old Atletico Madrid star -- the third highest goal scorer in La Liga last season with 27 goals -- to injury would be the bitterest pill to swallow.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has cover in veterans Fernando Torres and David Villa.
However, with Torres coming off another disappointing season in England and Villa having played second fiddle to Costa at Atletico del Bosque will be desperate for him to recover from his hamstring injury.
"We're in the hands of the medical staff," said del Bosque in his typically unflamboyant manner.
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