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Andrea Pirlo, Didier Drogba: Why many key players may miss World Cup 2010

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Sebastien Pirlet/Reuters

(Read caption) Mexico's Efrain Juarez (16) challenges Italy's Andrea Pirlo during their international friendly soccer match in Brussels June 3, ahead of the World Cup 2010 in South Africa.

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Italy's star midfielder Andrea Pirlo is injured, making him the latest key player to miss the opening of the 2010 World Cup.

Mr. Pirlo sustained a calf strain Friday. The team doctor told reporters that Pirlo will miss Italy’s June 14 opener against Paraguay. And his availability for Italy's second match, against Slovakia, remains in question.

But Pirlo is far from alone.

Some of the world's biggest stars will miss early games due to injuries and others have just recently been knocked out of the Cup altogether. And their absence could have a huge effect on some of the top-ranked teams in the tournament, which begins Friday in South Africa.

IN PICTURES: Ready for the World Cup

To date, every World Cup held outside Europe has been won by a South American team. Will that pattern continue? A healthy Argentina team and nearly healthy Brazil team help their prospects as the best European teams are now hampered with injuries.

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