Arsenal central defender Faye White has pulled out of England's crucial Play-Off
Arsenal central defender Faye White has pulled out of England's crucial Play-Off Final decider in France this Saturday as the team tries at the last attempt to qualify for the FIFA 2003 Women's World Cup.
With England trailing 0-1 from the home leg last month, White's withdrawal from the squad through a knee injury is an untimely one with two key players already missing in Katie Chapman (pregnancy) and Kelly Smith (cruciate ligament injury).
White sustained a kick to the back of her knee in the FA Nationwide Premier League clash against leaders Fulham last week. Immediate diagnosis put the player as doubtful for the fixture, which was confirmed when she was assessed by England medics when the team met up at Burnham Beeches Hotel on Monday evening.
"I'm absolutely devastated," said White. "I'm disappointed that I'm out and it's a real shame because after the last game against France, I wanted to play my part in the second leg. I came away from the last game thinking we should have won the match and I don't think France are any better than us. I wanted to give it a final go at trying to get to the World Cup."
White has been key to England's World Cup campaign, taking over as the rock at the heart of the defence following former captain Mo Marley's retirement from international football after the 2001 UEFA European Championships. White even stood in as captain in England's Play-Off Semi-Final clash against Iceland in September, with Karen Walker suspended, and led England to a 3-2 aggregate victory.
"I knew the injury was quite bad as soon as I went down," she added. "I don't know how I carried on playing for a few minutes. I think it was the adrenalin that was keeping me going.
"I had the injury assessed by the physios as soon as I joined up with England and it was decided that I wouldn't make the game on Saturday, even though the damage wasn't as bad as first thought. It looks like cartilage damage rather than my ACL, so I am going for a scan on Wednesday to find out. Hopefully it won't be any longer than six-eight weeks."
A six-to-eight week delay would also see White miss out on Arsenal's UEFA Cup quarter-final second leg clash with CSK WA Samara, being played on Thursday 28th December.
National Coach Hope Powell called in Birmingham City's Laura Bassett as replacement for White, who earns her first call-up to the senior squad after previously gaining 12 caps at Under-19 level. Bassett was one of the key players in the FIFA U19 World Championship in August, where England reached the quarter-final stage, and is enjoying her first taste of top flight action with newly promoted City this season.
Bassett is at The FA's National Player Development Centre at Loughborough University, where she is on a fully-funded three-year scholarship. She joined up with England squad yesterday afternoon and is room-sharing with former U19 team-mate and new cap Ellen Maggs, of Arsenal.
"I was told on Friday that I was on stand-by for the squad and that I should bring my passport back to Loughborough on Monday just in case I got the call-up. I actually was supposed to have a mock exam on Tuesday morning, so I was praying for a call-up so I could miss it. I heard that I was called up on Monday night while I was busy revising!
"I'm really excited about being with the senior squad and it's a great opportunity. I'm also glad that I missed my exam, but I'm sure I'll have to make up for it when I'm back."
England have other injury worries in captain Karen Walker, who resumes full training today for the first time in three weeks after an ankle injury. The medics are also working closely with Charlton Athletic duo Fara Williams and Pauline Cope to ensure they are fully fit for the match on Saturday.
The second leg of the Play-Off Final will be played at the Geoffroy Guichard Stadium, Saint Etienne, at 3.00pm local time. A 2-1 victory would see England qualify for the September 2003 Finals on away goals, but should England win 1-0 the game will go to 30 minutes of golden goal extra time and possibly penalties.
TheFA.com will have full coverage of the game.