It’s easy to forget the physicality of sports from the comfort of our stadium seats or living rooms. We lapse into a spectator’s perspective and sometimes view the players as characters in a grand drama, conveniently omitting the all too human nature of the game and the fragility of the human body. Injuries are ubiquitous to the sporting world, regardless of game. Certainly, players in certain sports are more injury prone than others; I don’t think anyone would compare the tennis elbow of a top 20 player with the ravages of a professional hockey player’s fractured neck. Still, injuries are a subject virtually all athletes can find some common ground over.
Injuries in soccer can be particularly frustrating for players, even more so than NHL or NFL players, especially around this time of year. Unlike those athletes, who only compete in one league for one team – with the exception of when the Olympics roll around – most of the best soccer talents in the world play fairly regularly for their national teams. International friendlies occur throughout the year, and continental championships usually occur in between World Cups. There’s international competitions going on every year, but the World Cup is undisputedly the biggest one of them all. Although it surely differs from player to player, many of them place a great deal of pride in their performance for their national teams. It’s wonderful to win championships with your coworkers for the club that pays your salary, but carrying the hopes of your home nation with a team full of your peers must be a magical experience.
Sadly, even after qualifying, players have to ensure that they remain healthy for the tournament in June. Given the physical nature of the game, there are no certainties that a player can make it through the season without any major injuries. It’s far too easy to acquire an injury that can put you on the shelf until after the World Cup’s conclusion. Here are some quality players who, unfortunately, have picked up injuries that will keep them from representing their home nation in Brazil a few weeks from now.
5 Theo Walcott – England/Arsenal
The English forward won’t be making an appearance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, thanks to a ruptured ACL in his left knee. Unfortunately this is par for the course for Walcott, who has a somewhat tumultuous relationship with the World Cup. On one hand, he is the youngest English player to ever get the call up to the senior squad, a record he set when he debuted for the ‘3 Lions’ in May 2006 at the age of 17 years and 75 days. On the other hand, he has failed to actually play in the tournament itself 3 times now. Although he was called up to play in 2006, and indeed did get some time in during the qualifiers, he failed to make an appearance during the actual tournament. In 2010, despite strong performances for Arsenal in the Premier League, he failed to get the call up from new coach Fabio Capello. Multiple people expressed shock at Walcott’s exclusion, including none other than Lionel Messi, and Capello would later go on record after England’s elimination to state that not selecting Walcott for the squad had been a mistake. 2014 was supposed to be the year that Walcott made his mark on the international scene for England, but it appears that will no longer be the case. The 25-year-old’s knee injury has forced him to miss the rest of Arsenal’s season and his 3rd chance at World Cup glory. In 2018, Walcott will be 29 years old and still waiting on his chance to make an impact for the English national team.
4 Sami Khedira – Germany/Real Madrid
Two months ago the common consensus was that Sami Khedira’s World Cup dreams were over. In November 2013 he suffered damage to one of his knees in the form of, you guessed it, an ACL injury. His club, Real Madrid, was furious as he injured himself playing for Germany, but were consoled by €2.5 million in compensation from FIFA for the loss of their star defensive midfielder. Germany were concerned about the possibility of heading to Brazil in the summer without the man who some refer to as the engine of the German midfield. Fortunately for all parties, as of late March, Khedira has been making an ideal recovery. Although it’s still touch and go for now, Khedira is no longer completely ruled out of the upcoming World Cup. However, even if he’s able to find fitness it doesn’t guarantee he’ll be able to find his usual form.
3 Giuseppe Rossi – Italy/Florentina
The American-born Italian forward was on fire at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season before falling to injury in January – specifically, a second-degree sprain of the collateral ligaments in his right knee. At the time of his injury he was leading goal scorer of Serie A with 14 goals in 18 games. Rossi, who has yet to play for Italy in a World Cup, was due to make his debut this time around. He narrowly missed out on being selected for Italy’s 2010 squad, but in the 4 years since then has improved tremendously as a player. Fortunately, all is not lost for the 27-year-old. He’s been working with American sports medicine specialists in Colorado to try and get fit for Brazil, and recently the tone coming from his camp seems to have become more positive. If Rossi is able to get fit in time for the World Cup, the Azzurri will be getting a huge boost in attacking power.
2 Kevin Strootman – Netherlands/Roma
Kevin Strootman is a Dutch midfielder who made an immediate impact upon his transfer last summer from PSV Eindhoven to AS Roma. The 24-year-old only made his debut for the Netherlands national team, the Oranje, in 2011, but has already carved out a niche as a key player of the team. Sadly, in Roma’s fixture against Napoli on March 9th, Strootman went down with – that’s right, you guessed it – a knee injury. Given the serious nature of the injury and its proximity to the beginning of the World Cup, Strootman is most definitely out of the Dutch World Cup squad this year. Luckily the midfielder is still young, and will still be in the prime of his career to make an impact at the 2018 World Cup.
1 Radamel Falcao – Colombia/Monaco
Finally we come to the man who, in truth, inspired this entire article. Radamel Falcao is one of the most prolific goal scorers of the world, and is frequently cited as one of the top players active today. He’s been the key to victory for virtually every team he’s ever played for, including FC Porto, Atlético Madrid, and now AS Monaco. He plays for the Colombian national team, whom he arguably single handedly carried to the finals of the tournament. In late January he sustained a knee injury that initially almost certainly ruled him out of the World Cup in June. Fortunately, like Rossi and Khedira, his prognosis has since improved. After his surgery he was given 50/50 odds on being fit enough to play in the World Cup, depending on how his recovery goes. Falcao’s recovery from injury has since become somewhat of a movement worldwide, especially on social media. The hashtag ‘Fuerza Tigre’ – which means strong tiger in Spanish – has since become the slogan of support for Falcao from all of his fans worldwide. Colombian clubs have taken to wearing the slogan on their t-shirts during warm-ups and notable figures such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have both come out urging Falcao onward and admitting that the World Cup would not be the same without the presence of one of the world’s top players. Falcao himself had kept a very positive attitude in public, and is said getting healthy for the World Cup is his number one objective. Hopefully the Colombian striker will be able to touch down in Brazil and lead his native Colombia to glory in June.