Four years after his goals helped turn Spain from perennial underachievers into European champions, star striker David Villa could end up watching the 2012 European Championship from home after breaking his left leg on Thursday.
Villa will be sidelined for up to five months, dealing Barcelona a major blow in its battle with Real Madrid for the Spanish league title and putting his place at Euro 2012 in serious jeopardy.
Villa broke the tibia in his left leg when challenging for the ball during Barcelona's 4-0 win over Al Sadd in the Club World Cup semifinals, and the Spanish champions said he will be flown back to Barcelona for surgery.
The injury means Villa will be unlikely to play again before the last few games of the season, and could weaken Spain's chances of defending the Euro title in June.
The Republic of Ireland are, of course, in their group.
Spain's all-time leading scorer was tangling with two defenders in the 37th minute when he landed awkwardly. He immediately fell to the ground before being stretchered off the pitch..
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque was devastated by news of the injury to the man who was the team's top scorer with five goals during its 2010 World Cup triumph.
While the 30-year-old forward is no longer a certain starter for Barcelona, he remains an integral part of the national lineup and would have been guaranteed a place in the Euro 2012 side in Poland and Ukraine.
“This is very bad,” said Del Bosque.
“It's a great misfortune, for him above all since he is the injured one, and looking ahead to Euro 2012.
“There are six months to go. Let's see if he can get well. Recovering always has its set processes, but there are some players that get healthy sooner than others.”
After a 4-0 win over Al Sadd, Barcelona will play South American champion Santos in the Club World Cup final with the chance to lift its 13th trophy under Guardiola.
Villa scored 23 goals last season, his first with Barcelona. The 30-year-old Villa has seen his playing time diminish this season with the arrival of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, but he has still scored nine goals in all competitions.
“Missing him in the team is going to be a blow,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. “He’s going to be out a long time.”
Adriano (twice), Seydou Keita and Maxwell scored to complete a comprehensive win for Barcelona yesterday to set up a final date with Santos on Sunday.