It’s a tough time to be a top-level footballer with aspirations of representing your country at the World Cup in Russia.
Most of the elite European leagues are coming to the end of their respective campaigns, and you can’t fault those with one eye on the summer showpiece taking it rather easy in the coming weeks in an attempt to avoid any unwanted injury prior to squad selection.
That’s the theory, anyway, but for some the reality is rather different.
Unfortunately for him, primarily, but for England too, the in-from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has picked up a knee injury that will keep him out of the Three Lions’ assault on the Jules Rimet trophy.
There was bad news for Zlatan Ibrahimovic too in his quest for a place in Sweden’s squad, while Jerome Boateng and Mohamed Elneny have been left to sweat over their fitness as the anticipation ahead of the World Cup continues to build.
The Ox is Down But Not Out
It’s a real shame for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has blossomed under Jurgen Klopp’s rather more fatherly tutelage than that of Arsene Wenger. The Ox has been playing in his preferred position in the centre of midfield, and he – and they – have reaped the rewards.
“Absolutely devastated to have picked up that injury at such a crucial time in the season,” he tweeted. “Gutted I won’t be able to play any further part now in our Champions League run for Liverpool, and also the World Cup with England.”
— Alex Ox-Chamberlain (@Alex_OxChambo) April 25, 2018
It’s a conundrum for Klopp, who now has just three fit central midfielders to call upon for a campaign that could still yield a second-place finish and Champions League glory. It’s also an issue for England, for whom the Ox was likely to act as an energetic link between the deeper-lying midfielders and the front three.
A replacement will need to be sought, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek the bookies’ favourite to book a seat on the plane over Jonjo Shelvey.
Thanks But No Thanks, Zlatan
The ego of the man dictates that he believes he can do what he likes, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic was given a proverbial custard pie this week by the Swedish coaching staff.
The former Manchester United man was expected to make himself available for selection for his country’s World Cup squad, a matter of years after retiring from the scene. He even told American talk show host Jimmy Kimmel as much on primetime TV.
But the notion has been blown out of the water by the Swedish selectors, who announced on their Instagram page – this is 2018 after all – the following: “A final message: Zlatan will not play at the World Cup. The men’s national team’s greatest scorer of all time has not returned and will not play.”
That’s a huge blow for all who wanted the great man to have a final swansong on the international stage.
Boateng Facing Fight of His Life
The Champions League semi-finals have not panned all that well for a few World Cup hopefuls, with Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng also picking up an injury in his side’s 1-2 defeat to Real Madrid.
The 29-year-old tweaked an abductor muscle – an injury with a reported four to six week recovery time, and faces a race of time to be fit for Germany’s opener against Mexico on June 17.
“Life is full of setbacks,” Boateng told his Instagram followers. “Now it’s time to fight to be in Russia. I will give everything for that.”
Joachim Low will certainly want Boateng on the plane; he isn’t blessed with top-notch centre halves. He can call upon Mats Hummels and Antonio Rudiger, but if one of those gets injured he faces the terrifying prospect of falling back on Arsenal’s hapless Shkodran Mustafi.
Elneny Hoping to Tread New Ground with Egypt
With Mo Salah in their ranks, you suspect that the world is Egypt’s oyster at the summer’s World Cup.
As the right winger has proven countless times at Liverpool this term, he is capable of winning watches on his own by conjuring up a moment of magic when it matters most.
He will need the support of his Egyptian teammates of course, and none more so than Mohamed Elneny, the Arsenal man who has hit a purple patch of form lately.
He suffered ankle ligament damage against West Ham last time out, and while Arsene Wenger has confirmed Elneny’s domestic campaign is over, Egypt fans can rest easy.
“Mohamed Elneny is out for the rest of the season,” Wenger said. “I think he will be available for Egypt at the World Cup, but not any more for Arsenal.”