Chelsea defender to miss Friday's game against injury-hit Montenegro but could return for Poland clash next Tuesday
Roy Hodgson has been dealt a blow ahead of England’s crunch World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland after Ashley Cole withdrew from the first match because of a rib injury.
Arsenal left-back Kieran Gibbs was called up to the England squad who gathered on Monday night at the St George’s Park base, although Everton left-back Leighton Baines will almost certainly now start on Friday at Wembley against Montenegro.
Cole’s rib was scanned on Monday at Chelsea ’s Cobham training base and he will remain with his club to undergo further treatment before being assessed ahead of the Poland match next Tuesday.
The Chelsea left-back is also now a major doubt for that fixture. The rest of Hodgson’s 23-man squad did report unscathed on Monday and, although the loss of one of England’s most experienced players was a considerable disappointment, there is some consolation in it being a position where Hodgson has strength in depth.
Montenegro have also suffered more serious injury blows, with their captain Mirko Vucinic, goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic, centre back Marko Basa and midfielder Miodrag Pekovic all ruled out on Monday. Defender Miodrag Dzudovic is another doubt.
Montenegro are only one point behind England at the top of Group H of World Cup qualifying, with Ukraine and Poland also still in contention to finish in the top two places. “It seems we always head into decisive matches decimated by injuries and this is just too much bad luck with the most important game of our careers around the corner,” said Dzudovic.
“But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Our coach, Branko Brnovic, will find the right strategy to disguise our chinks and maximise our potential at Wembley. We can’t just roll over and throw away all the good work we have done in the qualifiers so far. I am sure our forwards will find a way through. With the right attitude and enough self-belief, we can finish in the top two and reach the play-offs.”
The nine group winners qualify automatically for the 32-nation tournament in Brazil, while the eight best runners-up enter the two-legged play-offs for Europe’s remaining four places. Brnovic is still confident that Montenegro, which has a population of just 621,000, will qualify.
“We have the quality and I also think that this team plays much better away than home,” said Brnovic. “It’s something that no one ever dreamed to be possible, that such a small country could qualify for a World Cup. I believe this dream is on the verge of coming true, but we need to do the two matches properly to turn this dream into a reality.
“I believe that players do not need any special motivation for such games, because to play against the great England team at Wembley is something that every player dreams about, especially players from Montenegro.”