Capello rocked by Cole injury news

LONDON: England boss Fabio Capello has admitted that the potential loss of Ashley Cole from his World Cup squad is a severe blow to his preparations for South Africa.

Chelsea left-back Cole will be sidelined until early or mid-May after suffering a fracture of his left ankle, leaving him with only a few weeks to prove his fitness before the World Cup gets underway in mid-June.

"It is sad news for me because he is a very important player," Capello acknowledged. "He is good when he defending and really dangerous when we go forward. I hope this problem will not be so serious."

Cole's injury, suffered in a defeat by Everton on Wednesday, is also a major setback for Chelsea, for whom Cole had been in superb form, as they pursue a Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup treble.

Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti can deploy Yuri Zhirkov or Paulo Ferreira in the left-back slot but neither of them provide the kind of attacking dynamism that Cole offers and which is an integral part of the club's system.

Cole limped off in the second half against Everton, following a challenge with Landon Donovan, the United States international who, ironically, could line up against the defender again when England face the Americans in their World Cup opener on June 12.

The injury to Cole could make life more complicated for Capello as he mulls how to handle the fallout from the recent furore over John Terry's alleged affair with the former girlfriend of Wayne Bridge, Cole's under-study at left-back for the national team.

Having Bridge and Terry in the same dressing room will inevitably take some managing but the loss of Cole will make it virtually impossible for Capello to sidestep the issue by leaving Bridge out of his squad for the March 3 friendly against Egypt.

That would not be the case if Cole were fit with Stephen Warnock of Aston Villa and Everton's Leighton Baines currently pushing for promotion above Bridge, who has been plagued by injuries and poor form at Manchester City this season.

There has also been speculation that Bridge might decide to turn his back on England, although his manager at City, Roberto Mancini, said on Friday he thought that was unlikely.

"He never told me that he wouldn't play for England," Mancini said. "The national team is important. I have not spoken to him but I think, if he is picked, he will play."

Warnock is currently injured but could be back in action in time for the Egypt match while the case for Baines has been made by Everton boss David Moyes.

"I think the England left-backs will be Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge and then I think it is toss-up between Stephen Warnock and Leighton Baines," the Scot said.

"I think Bainesy on his day is a match for any of them and I know Fabio Capello knows about him. He is certainly in and around the reckoning.

"He has been a very consistent player for us this season, as he was last year."

Whatever the merits of the possible replacements, the loss of Cole would be a serious blow to England's chances in South Africa.

On his recent form, he has a legitimate claim to be regarded as the finest player in his position in the world and is arguably the only England international to have that status.