England captain Rio Ferdinand will miss the World Cup after suffering a knee injury in training, the Football Association confirmed on Friday.
Ferdinand sustained ligament damage to his left knee in the final minutes of England’s second training session after their arrival at their Bafokeng Sports Centre base in Rustenburg.
Scans at a local hospital showed the Manchester United defender will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks and Tottenham centre-back Michael Dawson will fly to South Africa to replace him in the squad.
Steven Gerrard will stand in for Ferdinand as England captain throughout the World Cup.
England coach Fabio Capello said: “It is obviously bad news and everyone with the squad is very disappointed and sorry for Rio.
“It was an accidental injury in training, but had nothing to do with the pitch.”
Ferdinand had already missed large periods of the season with back and groin problems. But he was happy with his fitness at the end of the season and during England’s two-week training camp in Austria before coming through the friendly internationals with Mexico and Japan unscathed.
Before Ferdinand was ruled out, Capello had described the incident as a “minor tackle”, but even then it was clear from his shocked demeanour that his captain’s chances of being fit for the finals were slim.
An FA statement confirmed the worst for Ferdinand.
“Further to a scan arranged by the England medical staff immediately after training on Friday afternoon, Rio has been ruled out for 4-6 weeks and will therefore unfortunately miss the World Cup,” it read.
“Tottenham Hotspur’s Michael Dawson has been contacted today and will fly to South Africa on Friday evening.”
Capello will now have to decide whether Ledley King, Jamie Carragher, Matthew Upson or Dawson replace Ferdinand at the heart of England’s defence.
Tottenham star King looked nervous on his first international appearance for three years in the 3-1 friendly win over Mexico earlier this month and he also suffers from a chronic knee problem that stops him training regularly.
That could make Capello’s successful attempt to persuade Liverpool defender Carragher to come out of international retirement all the important.
Dawson was named in Capello’s initial party of 30 for the finals but was excluded from the final 23 after not playing against either Mexico at Wembley or Japan in Graz.
The former Nottingham Forest centre-back had an outstanding season at Tottenham, often alongside King, but is yet to make his international debut.
West Ham’s Upson has started nine of the last 17 internationals, but Carragher or King are likely to partner John Terry in the Group C opener against the United States in Rustenburg on June 12.