A couple months ago, I said to my friend Steve, a soccer maven of the highest order, that I thought a key factor in the World Cup would be the timely health of players. In other words, injuries. His response, looking up from his charts and tactical diagrams, as it were, was a scoffing "Yeah yeah, how obvious."
The obvious is cruelly coming to the fore in the last couple days. Today we learn that Arjen Robben, the fleet dazzler on the Holland team, may have just pulled a hamstring and be lost for the tournament.
That follows the heavy cruelities of yesterday: England's loss of its captain and mainstay defender Rio Ferdinand, and the likely catastrophic loss of Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba, who is the best player in Africa and one of the very most dangerous forwards in the world. With Ghana's Michael Essien also out, that leaves only Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon as a star to carry the hopes of Africa. Nigeria just lost star player John Obie Mikel.
Over in Europe, Andrea Pirlo, the midfield maestro of an otherwise drab Italian team, may be hurt and unavailable. Germany will be without its injured captain Michael Ballack. Spain will have back terrific striker Fernando Torres and midfield whiz Andres Ineasta, but both will be rusty from injuries.
So we pray Messi stays healthy, ditto Wayne Rooney (who is much banged up) and Cristiano Ronaldo (though his Portugal doesn't look likely to last very long at the party, regardless).
What's responsible for all this falling by the way of the players? The modern game is simply astonishingly gruelling, and there's so much of it, at such tremendous pace and physicality. By the time World Cup rolls around, most top players are pretty chewed up.
But let's hope the sporting gods tell the injuriesto take a break, and we get the feast we're hungering for. I can't wait.
I just hope I don't trip and smash into something on the way to my seat.
Barry Yourgrau will be posting about the World Cup as it unfolds. He wrote the last World Cup for Huffington Post, and elsewhere about soccer passions in Madrid.