Beckham blow leaves door open for young guns

LONDON - While the injuries are beginning to mount up for Fabio Capello, the England manager can take some comfort from the fact that, in the case of David Beckham's position, he has a wealth of alternatives.

Beckham's hopes of making the World Cup are negligible after he tore an Achilles on Sunday, with the 34-year-old scheduled for surgery later on Monday.

In an all-too-familiar scenario for England managers over the years, the setback is one of several in recent weeks for the squad and almost certainly will not be the last as the gruelling and relentless English season lurches into its eighth month.

Wes Brown has fallen prey to the curse of the metatarsal - a broken toe that in the past has previously cut down Beckham, Gary Neville, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney twice - and is fighting to make the World Cup.

Capello's other main right-back, Glen Johnson, is only just tentatively returning to action after ankle ligament damage that kept him out for more than two months.

Left-back Ashley Cole has a broken ankle that will at best leave him desperately rusty and at worse rule him out of the tournament altogether, while his obvious replacement, Wayne Bridge, has retired from the international game after his personal problems with centre-back and former captain John Terry.

The new captain, Rio Ferdinand, has struggled all season with a back injury and has struggled to put together a consistent run of appearances for Manchester United while Aaron Lennon, a speedy alternative to Beckham on the right, is struggling with a troublesome groin injury that has kept him out since December and is seriously damaging his World Cup prospects.

With the leading English sides still facing a potential dozen games in the Premier and Champions Leagues there is plenty of time for more already-ailing bodies to be struck down before the June 1 deadline for World Cup squads to be named.

"David is a great professional and has worked very hard to be ready for the World Cup, so missing it will be a big blow," Capello said.

However, the silver lining for the Italian coach is that Beckham's position is the one where there is the deepest cover and removed the decision of whether it was a sensible use of a squad slot to take a player only ever likely to feature as a substitute.

Lennon, Theo Walcott and Shaun Wright-Phillips have all featured there in the last year and all bring a measure of pace and direct running that Beckham could not match even in his prime.

True, the three of them combined struggle to deliver the quality of cross and dead ball accuracy of Beckham but one of the trio was always likely to be Capello's first-choice starter.

James Milner and Steven Gerrard, both more effective in central midfield, can also operate well on the right, while David Bentley adds a further option having begun to rediscover his form at Tottenham Hotspur.

With the shadow of Beckham removed, it could pave the way for one of them, and Walcott appears to be in pole position, to stake a firm claim for the role and move England into a new era.

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