WORLD CUP: Broken dreams litter road as WC nears

Paris, May 11:

Four weeks to go until the greatest footballing show on earth and already dreams of World Cup glory are being shattered.

Whether it’s Wayne Rooney’s foot or Andriy Shevchenko’s knee, injuries are threatening to wreck the hopes of some of football’s biggest stars.

Other players, meanwhile, are coming to terms with the fact that they have already been deemed surplus to requirements for the finals, which kick off exactly four weeks on Friday.

Charlton Athletic striker Darren Bent wrapped up his English Premiership campaign at the weekend with high hopes of winning a place in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad after a season that saw him net 18 goals.

But instead Bent was left contemplating spending summer on the beach after learning that Eriksson had decided to pick 17-year-old Theo Walcott, who has yet to start a match for Arsenal, let alone England.

Eriksson admitted that Walcott’s inclusion was a gamble, but expressed confidence that the youngster would be able to handle the pressure.

Eriksson’s decision to pitch Walcott into the deep end is a consequence of the devastating injury to Rooney that threatens to rule the Manchester United player out of the World Cup.

While Rooney is undergoing two daily sessions in an oxygen chamber in an attempt to accelerate the recovery process, Ukraine’s captain and star Shevchenko is also racing against time to be fit.

Shevchenko damaged knee ligaments while playing for AC Milan on Sunday and although he does not need surgery, has been ordered to rest for 25 days.

Australia defender Tony Vidmar - a 35-year-old 90 cap veteran for the Socceroos - announced that he will play no part in the World Cup after being diagnosed with heart problems.

Fans in Germany, meanwhile, are mounting a campaign to get coach Jurgen Klinsmann to pick Bayern Munich’s Mehmet Scholl, with a 175,000-signature petition due to be delivered to Klinsmann on Friday.

All of the 32 teams who have qualified for the tournament must submit their squads to FIFA by May 15.

German organisers are putting the finishing touches to preparations, with security issues and the condition of playing surfaces at the 12 venues topping the agenda. Ground staff at stadia are scrambling to get pitches in pristine condition after being churned up during a gruelling Bundesliga season. Security chiefs are on alert for a possible resurgence of hooliganism as well as terrorist threats.

AWACS surveillance planes will patrol the skies above the stadiums and chemical and biological warfare units will be on standby in case of a terrorist strike, but the most credible threat to the tournament is crowd violence. The fact that the World Cup is returning to Europe after a turn in Asia, the wide availability of cheap beer in Germany and the country’s many shared borders make the tournament potentially high-risk.

“This World Cup is a challenge for the hooligans. The Germans will want to show what they are capable of doing, the others will want to cut loose in a foreign country,” said Andreas Morbach, the deputy head of the German police’s Central Sport Intelligence Unit (ZIS).

A US lawmaker and rights groups have accused Germany of doing little to prevent the exploitation of women during the tournament, railing against the emergence of “World Cup brothels.”