More injury woes for World Cup hopefuls
Injury news continued to dominate the countdown to the World Cup finals on Friday, with France, England and Spain receiving depressing bulletins from the treatment rooms.
France midfielder Christian Karembeu and England right back Gary Neville were ruled out of the tournament, while Spanish defender Sergi is rated doubtful after a recurrence of an ankle injury.
But there was some good news for the England camp after Manchester United said key midfielder David Beckham was making good progress in his recovery from a broken metatarsal bone in his foot.
Neville, who suffered a similar injury to England captain Beckham, has told national coach Sven-Goran Eriksson that he will not be available.
"He (Neville) felt it would have been unfair on the other players and everyone involved with the England set-up to wait for three more weeks before knowing for sure," United said in a statement on their website.
Karembeu, who was in France's World Cup-winning squad four years ago, has had his hopes of playing in the tournament scuppered by a groin injury.
"I'm out and I respect the coach's decision," the Olympiakos player told sports daily l'Equipe, adding that French coach Roger Lemerre had called up Bayern Munich's Willy Sagnol as a replacement.
Barcelona's Sergi has not been officially ruled out, but the left back has been told he should undergo arthroscopic surgery to correct ligament damage he aggravated in Wednesday's Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid.
Barcelona doctor Ricard Pruna said the 30-year-old defender with 56 caps would decide over the weekend whether to go ahead with the operation that would end his World Cup hopes.
There was better news for Germany, with midfielder Sebastian Deisler's chances of making the finals boosted when he was included in Hertha Berlin's squad for Saturday's Bundesliga match at Bayer Leverkusen.
The 22-year-old midfielder had only just returned from a serious knee injury when he tore a thigh muscle in training last month, raising concerns he might not be fit enough to make the squad.
Meanwhile, British media reported France forward Robert Pires as saying he feared many French players would boycott the World Cup if far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was elected president in Sunday's vote.
"Of course we don't want it to happen, but if the extreme right were to win the general election I think more than several players would refuse to take part in the World Cup," Pires was quoted as saying by SkySports.com.
"We are French but the team's roots are from everywhere, so it would make it an impossibility to play for your country if France is governed by the far right."
Pires, who plays for English premier league Arsenal, has already been ruled out of the World Cup in South Korea and Japan because of a knee injury.
Sweden named their 23-man World Cup squad, revealing a blend of youth and experience as they seek to survive the tournament's toughest first-round group.
Unbeaten in their last 18 internationals, Sweden have been drawn in the same group as Argentina, England and Nigeria for the tournament starting on May 31.
"We have chosen different types of players in order to be able to alter the pace and flow of a match, if we are ahead or if we are trailing, but we will not change our basic way of playing," coach Lars Lagerback said.
The experienced players include captain Patrik Andersson, the Barcelona defender, and hard-working midfielder Hakan Mild, who were both in the team that reached the 1994 World Cup semifinals.
The squad's youth is led by Ajax forward Zlatan Ibrahmovic, a 20-year-old with an electrifyingly touch and mesmerising dribbling skills.
The average age of the squad is 27, with nine players included who did not take part in Euro 2000.
Asia's first soccer World Cup will bring a huge gambling windfall worth billions of dollars to cash-strapped governments and organised crime, a leading bookmaker said.
"This is the first World Cup in Asia. The level of demand will be unprecedented," said Michael Carlton, Chief Executive of Victor Chandler Worldwide, Britain's largest independent bookmaker. "It will be in the billions of (U.S.) dollars."
However, he said as much as 90 percent of the total bet by Asians would be through illegal sources, with only 10 percent from licensed gambling and offshore Internet operators, creating a windfall for organised crime.