Madrid: Ghana`s World Cup preparations suffered a huge setback on Thursday when midfielder Michael Essien was ruled out with a knee injury as Spain`s Fernando Torres made progress in his recovery from a knee problem.
Described by Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac as the leader and engine room of his team, Essien picked up the injury in January and the Chelsea player will be sorely missed at soccer`s biggest event which starts on June 11 in South Africa.
"An evaluation by a combined team of medical experts from the Ghana Football Association and Chelsea Football Club revealed that Essien will not make a full recovery until the end of July," Ghana`s FA said on its website (www.ghanafa.org).
There was better news for Essien`s fellow Premier League player Torres, who trained with the Spain squad for the first time after surgery on his right knee last month.
"He`s said he`ll be fit in time for our first match, which is good news," winger Juan Mata said.
Spain`s Group H opponents Honduras will have to raise their game when they face the European champions after being held to a 2-2 draw by Belarus in a friendly in Austria.
The central Americans went ahead through Julio Cesar de Leon midway through the first half before conceding two goals in four minutes and having to rely through Edgar Alvarez to spare their blushes in the second half.
Denmark celebrated a comfortable 2-0 victory over Senegal on the eve of their departure to South Africa but must wait to learn the extent of centre back Simon Kjaer`s knee injury after he was taken off on a stretcher in Aalborg.
While teams try to sort out their tactics during friendlies, World Cup organisers were testing for something rather different during Thursday`s 2-1 victory by South Africa over Colombia in Johannesburg -- noise levels.
They were checking if the ear-splitting din from the much talked about vuvuzela fan trumpets could pose a security risk.
"If there is an order to evacuate that stadium and an announcement is made, you have to ask yourself, will everyone in that stadium hear that evacuation order?" chief local organiser Danny Jordaan said before the game where all the goals came from the penalty spot.
Hoping to add their cheers to the crowd noise were the South Africans who began queuing outside ticket offices after FIFA released additional seats on to the market.
Soccer`s ruling body said there were still 164,000 tickets available out of almost 2.9 million for the 64 matches.
"All we want is to see a match, we just want to be part of a South Africa match," said Vanesh Reddy, who had been queuing outside a ticket office in the Sandton district of Johannesburg since Wednesday night.
"I`m not a diehard soccer fan, but I just want to be part of this celebration."
Tournament preparations were disrupted by news that South African opera singer Siphiwo Ntshebe, who had been personally chosen by Nelson Mandela to sing at the opening ceremony, died at the age of 34 after contracting bacterial meningitis.
There was also an announcement at the end of a transport workers strike which has disrupted trade in South Africa with logistics group Transnet reaching a deal with the workers.
Any relief over that was, however, tempered by the South African labour federation COSATU saying it might strike during the World Cup over sharp power price increases by utility Eskom if a mediation meeting planned for June 14 fails.