Ferdinand out, Drogba doubtful for finals

By Alison Wildey

LONDON (Reuters) - Rio Ferdinand's World Cup was over before it began when the England captain injured his knee on Friday and Ivory Coast skipper Didier Drogba is a serious doubt for the finals after hurting his elbow.

With a week to go before the month-long tournament kicks off on June 11, injuries dominated the day.

Drogba was hurt in a friendly against Japan and another top player, midfielder Andrea Pirlo, will miss Italy's opening Group F match against Paraguay on June 14 with a calf problem.

Manchester United defender Ferdinand suffered a ligament injury in the final minutes of training after he went into a tackle and fell badly. Liverpool's Steven Gerrard will now take over as captain for the finals.

"Rio has been ruled out for four to six weeks and will therefore unfortunately miss the World Cup," the English FA said in a statement.

"It is obviously bad news and everyone with the squad is very disappointed and sorry for Rio," said manager Fabio Capello. "It was an accidental injury in training."

Tottenham Hotspur's Michael Dawson will take Ferdinand's place in the squad.

"It's been a crazy day," said Dawson. "One minute I'm trying to arrange my holiday, then I get a call asking if I was on holiday because Rio had pulled out of training.

"I said "no' and then I was just waiting by the phone before getting a call saying I would be picked up in an hour."

Elsewhere, Ivory Coast defender Kolo Toure said the 32-year-old Drogba had told his team mates his World Cup was over although coach Sven-Goran Eriksson was still hopeful he could play.

"We are not sure yet, we think it's still a possibility," the Swede said amid chaotic scenes in front of the ramshackle Tourbillon stadium in Sion, Switzerland where Ivory Coast beat Japan 2-0.

FALLING AWKWARDLY

Drogba went off after falling awkwardly following a challenge from Tulio early in the first half.

He was taken to hospital and a team source said he had fractured his elbow, although there was no official confirmation. The striker left the stadium with his arm in a cast.

Pirlo has left the Azzurri's training camp in the Italian Alps to rest at home but will travel to South Africa with the squad on Tuesday.

"It's an injury which worries me but there's time," team doctor Enrico Castellacci told reporters, saying the recovery period was at least 15 days.

Coach Marcello Lippi already has a doubt over winger Mauro Camoranesi, who has a knee injury.

France came through their final warm-up match unscathed but while other teams were struggling with injuries they have concerns over form after a shock 1-0 defeat to China, who did not qualify for the finals.

"I think we are improving," said coach Raymond Domenech who has faced heavy criticism ever since France went out in the first round of Euro 2008.

"We created a lot more chances than we did in our last two games. I'm not saying it was perfect but it was better.

"Having lost will force us to be more careful, more inspired and to work harder."

The controversial World Cup football finally found a fan on Friday when Brazilian Kaka kissed it during a news conference.

The Jabulani ball has been slated by several players but the 28-year-old Real Madrid midfielder said: "I'm not going to criticize the Cup ball.

"Everything that's new, new technology, makes a different impression. At first opinions were critical but who knows if that won't change during the World Cup?," added Kaka who is the advertising face of the ball's makers Adidas.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)