By Timothy Collings
RUSTENBURG, South Africa (Reuters) - After the loss of another of his captains, England manager Fabio Capello was left with more puzzles to solve as he revised his plans for his injury-hit team's World Cup campaign.
The exit of Rio Ferdinand, with a left knee ligament injury suffered during England's first serious training session on Friday, meant he had to reshuffle his defense, call up uncapped reserve Michael Dawson to join the squad and appoint a new captain in Steve Gerrard.
Dawson was scheduled to fly out to South Africa overnight on Friday and join up with the squad on Saturday morning after abandoning his plans for a holiday. "It's a crazy game," he said.
For Gerrard, it was a late and unexpected gift to mark his 30th birthday last Sunday, but hardly the way he wanted to realize a lifelong dream. Like Capello, he will know that England are weaker for the loss of the experienced 31-year-old center-back, a veteran of 78 caps and scorer of three goals.
Ferdinand's World Cup had lasted only 32 hours before Gerrard was pitched into a job that had belonged to John Terry until he was stripped of the captaincy in February following allegations about his private life.
"It is obviously bad news and everyone with the squad is very disappointed and sorry for Rio," said Capello. "It was an accidental injury in training, but had nothing to do with the pitch."
The theater-loving Capello may not have wished to be reminded that to lose one captain may be a misfortune, but to lose two looks like carelessness.
Ferdinand's departure was a setback, but not a catastrophe -- and has given opportunities to others to breathe new energy into the squad.
He endured an injury-hit season in which he made only 21 appearances and did not look anywhere near his best against either Mexico or Japan in England's final warm-up games.
His absence may even prove to be a blessing in disguise.
Capello's squad, notably his defense, has several players who look to be close to their sell-by date and suffer from injuries related to back problems -- goalkeeper David James, 39, leading the way.
The veteran Portsmouth player missed training on Friday because of a nagging knee injury aggravated by the long flight from London on Wednesday.
Of that trio, King, 29, has knee problems and, according to his Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp, may not be able to play two games in succession.
Carragher, persuaded to come out of international retirement by Capello, has not enjoyed a vintage season with Liverpool and at 32 lacks pace and agility.
Terry, 29, Chelsea's captain, has also suffered back problems and other injuries while his deputy Matthew Upson, 31, is another player lacking pace.
All this suggests Dawson, if fit and in decent form, has a chance of playing, particularly as he was excellent for his club last season.
"Where better to win your first cap?" he said.
In addition to Ferdinand, Capello is also without vastly experienced midfielder and former captain David Beckham, striker Michael Owen and sorely missed holding midfielder Owen Hargreaves.
All three were outstanding for England in previous World Cup finals and Hargreaves' specialist skills, in particular, have not been replaced.
The nearest to a replacement for him in the current squad is left-sided midfielder Gareth Barry, 29, but he is not a specialist defensive shield -- and he has been fighting to regain fitness after a right ankle injury last month.
Barry trained on Friday, but Capello said he was still short of full fitness and was due to work in the gym with a physiotherapist. "We have still to be careful with him," said Capello.
Gerrard, empowered by the captaincy, could create another problem as he dislikes playing on the left, where Capello prefers to pick him, but struggles to be effective as a holding player in tandem with Frank Lampard.
If Barry is passed fit for selection to face the United States in England's opening group C fixture on June 12, this could give Capello another dilemma to resolve.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)