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Injuries keep coming ahead of World Cup opener

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The injuries just keep coming, and plenty of big-name players are being affected with the World Cup less than a week away.

A day after Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba and England captain Rio Ferdinand were hurt, Netherlands winger Arjen Robben limped off the field with a left hamstring injury and Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel was ruled out of the tournament in South Africa because of his ailing knee.

Robben scored two goals before being hurt in the Dutch team's 6-1 win over Hungary in Amsterdam.

"I thought to myself, 'This can't be true,'" Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk said Saturday. "He made an unnatural movement and injured his hamstring."

Robben came on as a second-half substitute against Hungary before leaving the game in the 85th minute.

"He felt a sharp pain. That can't be good," Van Marwijk said. "Treatment for these injuries has improved hugely, so I'm not giving up hope yet."

The Dutch have another injury concern in center back John Heitinga. He was substituted after about an hour against the Hungarians and his ankle was immediately wrapped in ice.

Mikel will miss the World Cup because he has not recovered from knee surgery. He will be replaced by Ideye Brown, Nigeria Football Federation spokesman Ademola Olajire said.

Slovakia defender Martin Skrtel was also hurt Saturday. The Liverpool central defender injured his ankle in the 13th minute of Slovakia's 3-0 win over Costa Rica, but he is expected to travel with the team to South Africa.

The World Cup opens next Friday, but many of the world's most famous players will be missing.

Former England captain David Beckham, perhaps the most recognizable athlete in the world, was ruled out of the tournament in March when he tore his Achilles' tendon while playing for AC Milan. Germany captain Michael Ballack soon followed with an ankle injury in May, and Ghana midfielder Michael Essien was ruled out last week after failing to recover from a knee injury.

"The World Cup's not the same if the main stars are not there," Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac said after his team beat Latvia 1-0.

Others being affected by injuries include Mexico forward Guillermo Franco, Italy playmaker Andrea Pirlo, Chile striker Humberto Suazo and United States striker Jozy Altidore. Besides Ballack, Germany has also lost goalkeeper Rene Adler and midfielder Simon Rolfes to injury.

On Friday, Drogba broke his right arm in a friendly against Japan, and Ferdinand injured ligaments in his left knee during practice. Drogba had surgery on his arm Saturday in Switzerland.

Under FIFA rules, teams can replace injured players up to a day before their opening match.

The spate of injuries leading up to the first World Cup to be staged on the African continent is already a concern for some of Brazil's players.

"It's sad because we know these players wanted to play," Brazil right back Maicon said. "Of course, things will be easier when we play England and the Ivory Coast because they are good players, but ultimately it's sad not to have them in a competition like this one."

Brazil, which is favored by many to win its sixth World Cup title, has had two injury scares since arriving in South Africa — goalkeeper Julio Cesar and left back Michel Bastos. Both trained with team on Saturday.

"There might be occasions in which the best training is done at the gym, to get players in good condition following their long seasons," Brazil coach Dunga said.