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 April 26, 2002 | 0919 IST

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England hit by Neville blow, Keane returns

England right back Gary Neville looks likely to miss the World Cup finals after suffering an almost identical injury to the one sustained by his close friend and Manchester United colleague David Beckham.

Neville broke a bone in his foot during Manchester United's Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday, two weeks after Beckham did the same against Deportivo Coruna.

Gary Neville's likely to miss W'Cup "He's got a broken metatarsal (bone), believe it or not, it's incredible, absolutely incredible," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "I can't believe it."

Although Beckham has a good chance of recovering in time to play some part in England's campaign in Japan and South Korea, Neville's hopes look bleak.

Capped 52 times by his country, his place in the side could go to his younger brother Phil, Leeds United's Danny Mills or Bayern Munich youngster Owen Hargreaves.

As Neville's World Cup hopes faded, though, his club captain Roy Keane took a major step forward in his bid to lead Ireland into the tournament.

Keane, who suffered a hamstring injury playing for United three weeks ago, came on as a late substitute in the game against Leverkusen and reported no ill-effects.

"I am not feeling any reaction at the moment," he said. "I am way ahead of schedule and I have to be a bit patient. I don't want to do anything daft."


Meanwhile, influential Argentina midfielder Ariel Ortega limped off injured as River Plate crashed to a last-minute 2-1 home defeat by Brazil's Gremio in the South American Libertadores Cup on Wednesday.

Ortega, who had complained of problems with his thigh after training earlier in the week, pulled up after only 12 minutes of the game although it is not thought his World Cup hopes are in jeopardy.

China will be without six first-team players when they face World Cup co-hosts South Korea in a warm-up game on Saturday.

Striker Yang Chen, defender Sun Jihai, midfielders Yu Genwei, who scored the goal against Oman that took China to the World Cup finals, and Qi Hing, and striker Hao Haidong all miss the match.

Croatia will also have to cope without several key players in next month's friendly against Hungary.

"We will not have all our players available for the Hungary friendly," their coach Mirko Jozic said, adding that the May 8 game would be their last warm-up before the finals in Korea and Japan starting on May 31.

Among those likely to be missing are regular defender Robert Kovac, who plays for German champions Bayern Munich, and Croatia's record goalscorer Davor Suker, now with TSV 1860 Munich.

At least there was some good news for England fans coming to terms with the probable absence of Gary Neville.

The team's official World Cup song "We're On The Ball" was launched in London, with the record company describing it as a "flag-waving, terrace-chanting, sing-along monster of a footie anthem".

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