The World Cup in Brazil this summer is expected to be one of the best tournaments in recent memory, as it will be held in one of the most football-mad nations on Earth with many of the best players in the world competing for the coveted Jules Rimet trophy. However, for some top players, serious injuries while playing for their club teams mean that if their World Cup dream hasn’t already died, it’s in serious jeopardy.
A number of these players were expected to be among the top players for their respective national teams but have since been forced to pull out, while several other players on this list are currently in a race to be fit in time for the world’s biggest footballing tournament. Some are supporting players for their national teams, while others are among the best their country has to offer. Either way, it’s a big loss for their national side that now has to figure out who will need to replace them come June.
No matter what happens for these 10 men, any sign of them not being able to represent their country at the tournament every footballer dreams of playing in will be a massive blow both for their teammates and for their country’s people. These injuries are also a cruel reminder that pre-tournament injuries are a fact of life with regards to the World Cup in general, and the countries suffering injury blows ahead of the tournament will now have to find ways to cope with their losses – namely through entrusting their faith in less-heralded replacement players.
Whether the players on the road to recovery will be fit enough in time for Brazil remains to be seen, but their countries are certainly hoping for the best case scenario. With that said, let’s take a look at the 10 footballers whose World Cup dreams may or may not have died before they could even start.
10 Robbie Kruse - Australia
Although not exactly an elite footballer, Robbie Kruse is included on this list for being one of the few real sparks on an otherwise weak and ageing Aussie national team. The Bayer Leverkusen forward has 28 caps and three goals for the Socceroos thus far, and is likely to miss the World Cup due to a knee injury he sustained while training. Kruse, whose stock has been steadily rising since joining Bayer, is estimated to return in the middle of July 2014 – at which point Australia are likely to be knocked out early thanks to being in a group of death with Spain, the Netherlands, and Chile.
9 Makoto Hasebe - Japan
Although he hasn’t technically been ruled out of the tournament, Japanese midfielder Makoto Hasebe has had to undergo two knee operations since the start of this year – an injury risk head coach Alberto Zaccheroni may not be entirely eager to take. The FC Nürnberg defensive midfielder initially injured his knee in a friendly against Steaua Bucuresti in January, and is likely faced with a race to regain fitness in time for the Samurai Blue’s World Cup campaign this summer. With a group against Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire and Greece that has its top two spots relatively wide open, Japan are going to need all the help they can get to have an edge in Group C.
8 Bruma - Portugal
A rising young Portuguese star with tons of potential, Armindo Tué Na Bangna – better known as Bruma – will be forced to miss the World Cup thanks to a cruciate ligament injury sustained while playing for his club side Galatasaray in mid-January. The winger is out for the remainder of the season with an absence until the beginning of July a likely scenario. Should the 19-year-old starlet come closer to reaching his potential over the next couple of years, he will be expected to be a big-time player for Portugal come Euro 2016, as well as the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
7 Holger Badstuber - Germany
Having initially suffered a knee ligament injury during the 2012-13 season for Bayern Munich, Holger Badstuber has not played a game since, and remains extremely doubtful to make a return to the German national side in time for their World Cup campaign this summer. Although Germany have enough defensive depth that Badstuber’s absence shouldn’t be a big problem, he will still be an injury concern as he’s still rehabbing the injury despite a return to training. Should his rehabilitation progress stay as is from now until World Cup time, expect Badstuber to be out until at least the end of June.
6 Sami Khedira - Germany
Although Germany manager Joachim Löw is confident that he’ll be able to win his race for fitness in time for the World Cup, Sami Khedira remains on the road to recovery from a cruciate ligament injury that – barring any changes – will be expected to be out until the end of June. The Real Madrid defensive midfielder will be one member of an extremely deep German midfield should he be fit and should Löw select him for his 23-man squad. In a relatively tough group against Portugal, Ghana and the United States, Khedira will be expected to give it his best performance should he recover in time.
5 Kevin Strootman - Netherlands
Despite having undergone a successful surgery on his ACL injury, Dutch midfielder remains out of the question for a World Cup appearance for the Netherlands this summer. The Roma midfielder was expected to be one of the key players for the Oranje in a tough group which includes Spain and Chile, but Strootman is now expected to be sidelined until mid-October both for club and country – putting a serious damper on the Netherlands’ chances of World Cup glory four years after losing the final to Spain in extra time. Strootman has 25 caps with three goals for the Oranje in his career thus far.
4 Giuseppe Rossi - Italy
Giuseppe Rossi’s overall bad luck with serious injuries throughout his career has been a bitter pill for the New Jersey-born Italian national to swallow, but the fact that he was the leading scorer in the Serie A for Fiorentina up until suffering a cruciate ligament injury against Livorno in January is even tougher to accept. Rossi now faces a race for fitness ahead of Italy’s crucial World Cup campaign in a tough group against Uruguay and England, and should he be able to make it to Brazil, he will form a deadly strike partnership with Milan bad boy Mario Balotelli.
3 Theo Walcott - England
To call Theo Walcott’s luck with regards to World Cup selection snakebitten would be a contender for understatement of the century. Though he surprisingly made Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad in 2006 as a teenager, he didn’t play a minute of the tournament, and was left off Fabio Capello’s squad in 2010 despite starring for the Three Lions in their qualification campaign. This time, a cruciate ligament injury that has forced Walcott to learn how to walk again will sideline him for England’s entire World Cup campaign – leading to a possible opening on the right side of midfield for Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling and/or Southampton’s Adam Lallana.
2 Victor Valdes - Spain
The most recent of these 10 injuries came as a double blow for Victor Valdes – a torn ACL for the Barcelona keeper means both his dreams of a World Cup place, as well as his career with the Blaugrana, have more than likely come to an end following an awkward fall from saving a free kick against Celta Vigo. Valdes is not expected to make a return between the sticks until September, and his absence for Spain this summer raises Manchester United keeper David de Gea’s odds of appearing with Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina significantly. At 32 years of age, it’s unknown how long Valdes will keep being considered for the Spanish national side.
1 Radamel Falcao - Colombia
Despite not having a spectacular season for new club Monaco, Radamel Falcao suffered a torn ACL while playing against a non-professional team. Such an injury initially ruled Falcao out of the World Cup entirely – which would have been a gigantic blow to Colombia’s chances at the tournament – but his recovery has been faster than expected thus far, and was rated with a “55 per cent chance” of making it to Brazil by his doctor not long after he sustained the injury. According to his surgeon, it’s possible that Falcao could be back on the pitch come May. If so, his recovery will have been nothing short of miraculous.