Fabio Capello's injury-ravaged World Cup squad were dealt another heavy blow last night when it emerged that Ledley King's tournament is effectively over, forcing the England manager to turn to his third-choice central defenders.
The indications from the Capello camp last night were that King, injured against the United States on Saturday, is out for two to three weeks which would take him up until the quarter- finals – providing England are still in the competition – at the most optimistic. More realistically, the 29-year-old will not play again in this World Cup finals after being substituted at half-time.
Taking King to South Africa was always a risk but it was not his notoriously unreliable knee that has caused him the latest problem. The Tottenham captain strained an abductor muscle in his first half on Saturday, possibly as early as the first five minutes, and played on until half-time.
Now Capello must turn to Jamie Carragher, who was booked in an unconvincing second half on Saturday evening. His two alternatives beyond Carragher are Matthew Upson and the uncapped Michael Dawson. Capello is understood be relatively happy with the Liverpool player's performance on Saturday.
Capello said after Saturday's game that he will have to take stock of Robert Green's "psychological" state before he decides whether to play him against Algeria on Friday in a must-win Group C game. The West Ham goalkeeper now faces a week of waiting to discover if his catastrophic error against the US will cost him his place in the England side.
Asked if Green – who fumbled Clint Dempsey's 40th-minute shot in Rustenburg – would be the goalkeeper in Cape Town's Green Point stadium, Capello could not have been less equivocal. He said: "No – yes – we have to wait. I know. We think about this problem psychologically."
If Green is removed from the England side after two bad errors in consecutive competitive fixtures under Capello – he was sent off in his previous competitive match, a World Cup qualifier in Ukraine last October – Joe Hart, rather than David James, looks like the individual Capello will gamble on.
It is understood that James has not seen eye-to-eye with some of Capello's backroom staff in South Africa over the last 10 days. James is known to be unhappy with the selection process over the goalkeepers. He is not injured – despite suggestions that he hurt his knee on the flight to South Africa – and feels that Capello has ruled him out of the running for no good reason.
Green said that he had made a "horrible" mistake but would not let it destroy his confidence. "It's a mistake, it's something that happens in life," he said. "I would love to have stopped it. I do it time and time again in training. If that happens, then so be it. It's obviously a genuine, horrible mistake but it's something to deal with.
"You prepare mentally for making those mistakes, that's what you do the preparation for, mentally, before a game. You don't let it affect you. You stand there and say, 'OK, we've got 50 minutes left and don't let it happen again'.
"I'm not blaming the ball, I should have stopped it – there's no two ways about it. It's a shot from I don't know how many yards that I should have stopped and that I will do time and time again in training. You don't let it affect you for the next hour or 50 minutes and that's what you prepare for.
"I walked in at half-time, said sorry to the chaps and I apologise to however many million people at home as well. But the important thing is you are ready and I am willing to work mentally on it. It's not a problem. I've done it before, I'm 30 years old and I've learned to deal with these things."
The Algeria goalkeeper Fawzi Chaouchi made a similar mistake to concede Robert Koren's goal in Slovenia's 1-0 victory yesterday that puts them top of group C. Gareth Barry appears to be a strong contender to anchor the midfield on Friday allowing both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard more freedom, though Gerrard will not necessarily move out to the left and a change of formation cannot be ruled out.
Barry's return will make James Milner's hopes of making an impact in the tournament slimmer. The England team doctor Ian Beasley confirmed Milner's suggestion to Capello, made on Thursday night, that he was fit to play. Privately, though, Capello is by no means downhearted by what he saw in the Royal Bafokeng stadium. He is also bemused by the negative reaction in some quarters to Saturday's game – one which England deserved to win.