England captain Rio Ferdinand will miss the World Cup after suffering a knee injury in training on Friday morning. His absence has been confirmed by the Football Association and Michael Dawson will now fly out to replace him.
England had been relieved to see Gareth Barry return to training at their Rustenburg camp and the midfielder could be in contention to feature in the country's opening game against USA on June 12, but preparations took a worrying turn when Ferdinand suffered the problem towards the end of the session in a challenge with Emile Heskey.
The Manchester United defender was taken to hospital to assess the problem and left on crutches. It was confirmed that Ferdinand has suffered ligament damage, ruling him out for between four and six weeks, and that Tottenham defender Dawson is flying out to South Africa as his replacement.
Fabio Capello told the FA's official website: "It is obviously bad news and everyone with the squad is very disappointed and sorry for Rio." The Italian then moved to quell mounting speculation about the cause of the injury: "It was an accidental injury in training, but had nothing to do with the pitch."
Dawson, who has not won a senior cap for his country but was included in Capello's 30-man preliminary squad, says his head has been left in a spin by Friday's events.
"It's a crazy game and things can change in a split second," Dawson told Tottenham's official website. "One minute I'm trying to arrange my holiday, then I get a call asking if I was on holiday because Rio had pulled out of training. I said 'no' and then I was just waiting by the phone before getting a call saying I would be picked up in an hour. It's been a crazy day.
"For Rio to get injured, there would be no worse feeling for him as a player. To miss the biggest tournament in the world as the captain, I feel for him. I missed the Carling Cup Final in 2008, and there was nothing anyone could have said to me that could have made me feel any better. For Rio, the feeling will be the same, but it's a chance for me now.
"I've not had time to think about it but I've had call after call with people wishing me good luck. I know all the lads through having been with them for two weeks so I'll just be going out there and training as normal. I was planning to watch the first game of the tournament with my friends and family, but now I'm going to be there for real."
Steven Gerrard will now captain England at the World Cup, with an FA source telling Soccernet: "That is not in doubt, Fabio Capello has chosen the captain and vice-captain, so this is not an issue."
Ferdinand suffered extensively from injuries at Old Trafford last season and was able to start only 12 Premier League games as various fitness problems took their toll.
However, Barry's return is a grain of positive news for England as the midfielder had been a doubt to make the squad due to an ankle injury sustained in a Premier League game against Tottenham on May 5.
Capello, who calmed fears over a possible injury to goalkeeper David James, is remaining cautious over Barry's recovery but is pleased to see the player steadily improving.
"David James had a little problem with his knee but not a big problem, and Barry, he started to train with the team and he is improving every day," Capello said to a lunchtime press conference.
"He is getting better and better every moment. In the afternoons he trains in the gym with the physio and in the morning with the team, but not completely with the team. We have to be careful with every moment and make sure the ankle is really good."