Brazil 2014: Welsh wizard Gareth Bale is set to replace Theo Walcott in the England squad as an astonishing new bona fide FIFA rule allows countries heading to the Brazil 2014 World Cup to replace their injured regulars with signings from nations that failed to qualify.
Right. Pigs might fly.
Below we look at five players who will miss the Brazil 2014 World Cup through injury and their ideal would-be replacements from countries that missed out.
1. OUT: Victor Valdes (Spain):
Spain’s perennial understudy, Valdes is to Iker Casillas what Neil Sullivan was to David Seaman. The Barcelona goalkeeper will miss his country’s defence of their title after suffering anterior cruciate ligament injury in March. He would have been in Brazil to make up the numbers unless for some reason Casillas was ruled out or Spain qualified for the knockout stages with a game to spare.
1. REPLACEMENT: Petr Cech (Czech Republic)
The Chelsea goalkeeper would be a more than adequate replacement. In fact, he would conceivably dislodge Iker Casillas as the top man. Despite Cech’s best efforts, the Czech Republic failed to secure a ticket to Brazil 2014 after finishing third behind Denmark and group winners Italy.
2. OUT: Theo Walcott (England):
It looked like an innocuous fall when Walcott went down during Arsenal’s 2-0 FA Cup victory over Tottenham in January. The forward’s worst fears were confirmed as scans revealed he had suffered a cruciate ligament injury. It would have been the first time he played at a World Cup final. The forward was an unused squad member at the 2006 tournament.
2. REPLACEMENT: Gareth Bale (Wales):
Now that Andros Townsend, widely touted as Walcott’s replacement has also been ruled out, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Roy Hodgson was able to bring in Bale. His involvement in the qualifiers was curtailed by injury, but four goals in the seven games he played demonstrated what Wales were missing as Chris Coleman’s men finished fifth. One Southampton academy product for another, Galactico Bale would be the perfect replacement for Walcott.
3. OUT: Radamel Falcao (Colombia):
Another victim of the anterior cruciate ligament injury curse. The initial prognosis when the striker suffered the injury in January ruled him out of the Brazil 2014 World Cup. However, recent rather optimistic update bulletins give the Monaco striker an outside chance. His value to Colombia is immense. He was his country’s top scorer during the qualifiers as the South Americans finished second behind Argentina.
3. REPLACEMENT: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)
: Sweden ran Germany a close second in the qualifiers before missing out to Portugal in the play-offs. After finding the back of the net eight times in the qualifiers Zlatan almost single-handedly fired Sweden to the finals in the play-offs, but for Cristiano Ronaldo’s obscenely superhuman effort. Not many strikers are cut from the same cloth as Zlatan – charismatic, talented and arrogant. Brazil 2014 will be poorer for the PSG striker’s absence.
4. OUT: Kevin Strootman (Netherlands):
After the retirement of midfield strongman Mark van Bommel Holland had a ready-made replacement in Strootman. Unfortunately the Roma midfielder’s Brazil 2014 World Cup dreams were shattered in March when he suffered a serious knee injury.
4. REPLACEMENT: Nemanja Matic (Serbia):
Matic suffered the indignity of being flogged to Benfica as a makeweight in a deal that took David Luiz to Chelsea in 2011 only to return to Stamford Bridge in January 2014 for a fee in the region of £21m. Few midfielders play the destroyer role better than the 25-year-old. His international record is modest, but his star is definitely rising.
5. OUT: Christian Benteke (Belgium):
The Aston Villa striker ruptured an Achilles tendon in training in April. The standard recovery period for the injury is a minimum of six months, so the big Belgian battering ram will be watching Brazil 2014 from home.
5. REPLACEMENT: Robert Lewandowski (Poland):
Poland flattered to deceive in a group ultimately won by England, with Ukraine taking the runners-up spot. They were right in the mix until they floundered at the death. Lewandowski averaged a goal every three games during the qualifiers, a modest return by his club standards, but there is more to the Bayern Munich-bound striker’s game than goals.