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Qualifying for the World Cup is just the beginning for a team. It still has to play the games. To do that well, a team needs its best players playing at their best. History is riddled with teams in all sports that lose a key player and crumble (Bengals, anyone?). Several teams are facing some injury problems that threaten to derail their World Cup dreams. There are still almost six weeks until the World Cup starts, so some injuries will heal, but not before the country's citizens lose a little sleep. Here's a look at some of the teams that are particularly banged up:
England - You either love or hate England, so their recent run of bad luck either makes you want to cry or jump for joy. To begin with, Michael Owen, who was out four months with a broken foot, returned to his first game action this week only to complain of discomfort. An x-ray turned up no problems, but fans won't rest easy until the pain disappears. That's great news, though, compared to the scene that greeted those who tuned into the Man U - Chelsea game. Wayne Rooney went down and grabbed his ankle like it had been shot. He was carted off on a stretcher and left the stadium on crutches. He broke a bone in his foot and will be out at least six weeks. He'll need to be a fast healer to be in decent form for Germany. Unfortunately, past history doesn't show that he is. Rooney broke the same foot at Euro 2004 and missed 10 weeks of action. If it takes that long for him to heal this time, England will find it very hard to put together an impressive showing. As England midfielder Steven Gerrard puts it, "I think it is impossible to have a good World Cup without Wayne".
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Australia - The Socceroo's are hoping that there is some Guus Hiddink magic left in the tank. The coach, who led the Netherlands and South Korea to fourth place finishes the last two World Cups, is very good, but not good enough to pull off the miracle that Australian success would be without a healthy team. In one nightmare week, that healthy team was decimated. Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer took an elbow to the cheek that shattered the bone. Mark Viduka, the captain, missed his team's last game with a thigh injury. Midfielder Harry Kewell of Liverpool left his last game with an injured groin, a problem that has been a recurring nuisance for the player the last several years. None of those injuries are good news, though all three players are expected to be active by the time the team heads to Germany. Of more concern is midfielder Tim Cahill's knee. He has hurt his posterior cruciate ligament. He's a game competitor who is determined to be ready, but at the very least his fitness will be challenged by his inability to bear weight.
Ghana - The Black Stars have an outside chance of getting through to the second round thanks to a quietly talented roster and a group full of strong but imperfect teams. That chance took a blow during a recent disastrous friendly in Germany against VfB Stuttgart. The game was a draw, but Ghana's players were dropping like flies. Striker Lloyd Owuso tore his groin early in the match and will be out for six to eight weeks, meaning his World Cup dreams are dead. Captain Isaac Boakye went down with an injury, too. Though not disclosed, the injury isn't thought to be serious enough to impact his participation. Ibrahim Salou, expected to provide depth off the bench, was also hurt in the game and will miss at least four weeks and perhaps his chance in Germany. Ghana needs to swat the injury bug -- and fast -- or its chance for success will be crippled.
Italy - Two months ago things looked dire for Italy. Francesco Totti, the playmaking magician, broke his leg and strained ligaments in his ankle, requiring surgery. Fear turned to surprised relief this week when Totti returned to game action much sooner than expected and felt fine. That very good news was tempered somewhat by word that fellow attacker Christian Vieri had injured his knee and would miss the World Cup. Though an emerging talent, Vieri is not crucial to the team and can be replaced without losing too much. That's something that couldn't be said about Totti.
USA - While the Americans are largely healthy, one player who provides valuable experience and drive is having a terrible string of bad luck. Steve Ralston has played more minutes than anyone in the history of MLS. The midfielder has 33 caps and bagged the goal that clinched the World Cup berth for the team. Though healthy for most of his first 30 years, the time since qualifying has been one calamity after another. Nagging injuries last year hampered his performance in the playoffs. He came to training camp well rested, but tore his quadriceps early on at the camp. He strained his groin in the friendly against Jamaica. His bad luck makes it quite likely he won't have a spot set aside for him on the final USA roster. His international experience, lockdown skills and the depth he would provide to the team would be sorely missed.