Friday, December 11, 2009

Keeping Track of Injuries Ahead of SA 2010

From a macro perspective, this is one of the great mysteries ahead of South Africa 2010.

Which players are hurt?

Fans are likely to have a pretty good idea about the physical form of the players from their home team. And they may have an idea about the injured elite players in the top professional leagues in Europe.

But when we try to keep track of the middling or fringe-first-XI guys for 32 nations (one of which is secrecy-shrouded North Korea) ... well, we're going to be guessing.

In this case, Ghana has lost its best player, Michael Essien, for at least two months with a torn hamstring. (And my study of torn hamstrings is that two months is a very, very optimistic time frame for a return.)

The London Times tells us about Essien's injury here.

Get well soon, Mr. Essien.

The bigger topic ... is about how we will get close to the World Cup and make projections based on a team showing up with its first XI. And could be badly misinformed because several key players are hurt and we don't know it.

Here is just one example:

The United States may be the planet's elite sports nation. But when it comes to its soccer team, otherwise well-informed fans in other parts of the world don't really know more than a few names of players on the U.S. team.

And the United States's chances in the World Cup are, at the moment, typically forecast by others ... based on the assumption that the first XI it used there for that runner-up finish in the Confederations Cup will be the same it uses at the World Cup.

However, that is not the case.

Two of the first XI are on the shelf at this moment. One, Charlie Davies, who scored in the crucial match against Egypt, nearly died in an automobile accident in October. He suffered numerous broken bones and almost certainly won't play in South Africa -- and maybe never again. And how many non-Americans know that?

The other seriously injured U.S. player in central defender Oguchi Onyewu whose knee exploded in the latter stages of the World Cup qualifying match vs. Costa Rica, in November. Onyewu has a higher profile than most of the U.S. players, being under contract with AC Milan (albeit lashed to the bench there, before he was hurt) ... but it seems safe to assume most of the soccer world is unaware that he will not really begin his comeback until spring and may not be back in form by June 11.

And that is just one nation.

Multiply the not-quite-aware factor by 32, and you begin to see the really extraordinary level of Not Knowing (among pundits and fans alike), about what to make (and expect) of this, that or the other World Cup contender.

Because we won't, and can't, know who is hurt.

Complicating this further? The dearth of accurate information that World Cup teams will allow to leak out about its players and their injuries as we get close to the Big Event. As if it weren't already difficult enough to keep track of (say) Paraguay's guys -- even if we read Spanish-language publications from the country.

We will attempt here, as we get closer to this, to keep track of the players who suffer major injuries. But that injury report will most assuredly be skewed toward the big soccer nations and players in the major leagues.

Very good players, very important players, competing or club teams back in their home nation ... they could be in a full body cast, and we may not know about it until the opening match, when Team X takes the field without Player No. 11.

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