Race against time for injured stars with Kante, Jota and Co already out of World Cup

Managers facing big decisions ahead of squad announcements for finals in Qatar

Marco Reus, left, and Leroy Sane, right, are injury doubts for Germany ahead of the World Cup. AP
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Mario Gotze took two shirts and a warm-up bib into the Maracana stadium for the 2014 World Cup final. Just before extra-time, after loosening up along the touchline, he was told by his manager, Joachim Low, to “go out and show them you’re as good as Messi.”

Gotze, on as a late substitute, went on to score the goal against Argentina that earned Germany their gold medals. He displayed his for the cameras alongside the second jersey he had carried onto the bench, a number 21 bearing the surname of his friend and colleague Marco Reus.

Most winning finalists at football’s greatest event extend their thoughts, at the moment of triumph, to a wider fraternity of teammates and support staff who, for one reason or another, cannot be among them.

Reus, the Borussia Dortmund striker, was the most conspicuous absentee from the German celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, ruled out by an ankle injury just before the tournament began.

It was not Reus’s first such setback. As a 21-year-old freshly capped prospect, injury struck him just before the 2010 World Cup. As a 33-year-old captain of Dortmund with five assists and two goals from his last three appearances for his country, he now dreads another heartbreak.

His chances of going to Qatar 2022 hang in the balance, amid concern that his return, off the bench in his club’s weekend defeat to Union Berlin, after a month out with another ankle problem may have come too soon.

By the end of Friday, Germany manager Hansi Flick, along with his 31 counterparts preparing for next month’s tournament in Qatar, must submit to Fifa a longlist of players they intend to pick their 26-man squads from.

The parameters are broad at this stage, Fifa allowing a maximum of 55 pre-chosen candidates before final squads are named on November 14. But tough phone calls will still be made, players being informed they have not made the first cut-off.

Flick has this week been seeking information on Reus’s condition. He was weighing up Gotze’s possible value, too, to a squad where the choice of attacking candidates can seem plentiful, a number of younger German talents having overtaken the attacker in the hierarchy over the eight years since the 2014 World Cup-winning hero eclipsed Messi in extra-time.

Gotze has suffered serious illness and various injuries in a period that has seen him move from Bayern Munich, to Dortmund and to PSV Eindhoven before returning, with some of his old verve, to the Bundesliga and Eintracht Frankfurt. Flick has been in touch with Gotze, but it is still nearly five years since he last played for Germany.

He would be an outlier in Flick’s longlist, his chances, at 30, of another crack at the World Cup probably depending on others being unavailable. Flick has concerns not only over Reus, but Bayern Munich's Leroy Sane, who suffered a muscle tear last Sunday.

One world champion facing up gloomily to watching events in Qatar from long distance is Chelsea’s N‘Golo Kante, whose hamstring problem is forecast to keep him out of action until the new year.

Kante, the midfield motor of France’s triumph in 2018, is a significant loss for Les Bleus in an area of the pitch where manager Didier Deschamps has other worries.

Paul Pogba has only just returned to light training following surgery he had hoped to delay until after Qatar 2022. He joined Juventus in the summer, where the gravity of his knee injury became apparent, hastening him to the operating table.

Pogba has not seen any competitive action for six months. He has a maximum of six possible fixtures for troubled Juventus to prove he is World Cup-ready.

No such opportunity for Diogo Jota, the Liverpool forward, who feared, rightly, for his chances of making Portugal’s squad as soon as he was stretchered off late in his club’s victory against Manchester City on Sunday . “One of my dreams has collapsed,” he told supporters, reconciled to be just “a supporter” when his country head to the Gulf.

Others who await the naming of provisional squads with no suspense, but only sadness include Jota’s ex-Liverpool colleague, Gini Wijnaldum, who wore the Dutch captain’s armband at the last European Championship but effectively gave up his Netherlands number eight jersey for the rest of 2022 when he broke his leg shortly after making his Roma debut in August.

England’s midfield resources are likewise under threat of being diminished, with City’s Kalvin Phillips racing against time to shake off a shoulder problem. The famed English wealth of talent at right-back is also thinning, with Chelsea’s Reece James a serious fitness doubt and Kyle Walker in recuperation.

Updated: October 21, 2022, 5:29 AM
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