Ferdinand blow exposes England
World Cup 2010: Rustenburg
Rio Ferdinand - tempting fate to a degree it found impossible to resist - claimed his catalogue of injuries at Manchester United could provide "a silver lining" for England's World Cup hopes.
The theory, fatally flawed, was that the problems that restricted him to only 21 appearances would leave him refreshed and at the peak of fitness to captain Fabio Capello's squad in their South African campaign.
No silver lining was detected as he was taken to hospital after damaging his left knee in the closing moments of England's first training session after challenging with Emile Heskey - only clouds for Capello and Ferdinand on an otherwise sun-kissed Rustenburg day.
Ferdinand suffered the heartbreak of missing the showpiece that was to be the pinnacle of his career, offering him the possibility of being the first England captain since Bobby Moore to lift the game's greatest prize.
Captain Rio Ferdinand makes his way to hospital on crutches
He remains one of the world's premier central defenders, but the physical package is now so severely damaged that Ferdinand's possible breakdown must surely have crossed Capello's radar when he named his squad.
Capello is the most meticulous of planners - one of his coaching team received a blast in Italian on Friday for not putting a practice cone exactly where he required - so the element of risk involved in the injury-plagued Ferdinand's presence will have been calculated.
England's first day of serious work in the warm but comfortable heat of Rustenburg was progressing perfectly. The mood of Capello's squad was buoyant as they went through their paces on the perfect pitch presented by the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus.
Gareth Barry had lifted the mood by appearing for training as he recovers from an ankle injury, and David Beckham was even on hand to join the warm-up as part of his new role within the squad.
But spirits sunk a couple of hours later as a stone-faced Capello gave a "good news-bad news" media briefing by delivering an upbeat bulletin on Barry before revealing Ferdinand was on his way to a local hospital for a scan on his knee that saw him ruled out of the World Cup.
Ferdinand's injury represents both a huge personal blow and a severe setback to England. Capello had been relying on Ferdinand's long-term partnership with John Terry to form the bedrock of his defence.
Sadly, the fears that Ferdinand's fragile fitness may let him down during the tournament came to fruition. And the fact he failed to make it through England's opening work-out in South Africa left even the pragmatic, philosophical Capello with a fight to maintain a brave face.
Capello is certain morale will not be hit by Ferdinand's absence, but it is sure to have at least inflicted a temporary jolt on a squad who will have looked to the defender to provide leadership, experience and presence.
And with Terry also facing question marks about his fitness, an already vulnerable area of England's squad has been left exposed. Capello has called on Ledley King for such circumstances - but his injury record still provokes an outbreak of crossed fingers every time he steps out on to the turf.
King's central defensive partner at Tottenham, Michael Dawson, was boarding a flight bound for South Africa on Friday night to replace Ferdinand. He had an outstanding season as Spurs reached the Champions League, but he has never played international football and Capello showed no inclination to give him even a brief taste in England's final two warm-up friendlies against Mexico and Japan.
Indeed Spurs boss Harry Redknapp was critical of Capello's treatment of Dawson and West Ham United's Scott Parker, claiming they had felt like "ghosts" on the altitude training trip to Austria before his 30-man squad was pared down to 23.
Now Capello must hope Ferdinand's injury, and the problems it leaves him to solve, does not become England's spectre at this football feast.
It is now easy to see why Capello was so keen to ignore King's injury problems and persuade Liverpool's Jamie Carragher to end his self-imposed England retirement.
Carragher can cover all bases at the back, while Capello will know King is a class act when fit - although his display against Mexico was, to put it kindly, laboured.
Capello was defiant enough to sweep aside Ferdinand's injury to insist England remain one of the teams who can win the World Cup, but there was a qualification to his confidence.
"Sometimes you need to be lucky," he said. After losing one captain to problems of a personal nature and another to the latest in a long line of injuries, Capello will be hoping he has used up his stock of ill-fortune before the World Cup commences.