Injured Ashley Cole faces World Cup fitness race

ASHLEY Cole faces a fight to be fit in time for the World Cup finals in South Africa after the Chelsea defender fractured his ankle in Wednesday's 2-1 loss at Everton.

The England international left-back is almost certainly out for the remainder of the domestic season and his place in Fabio Capello's squad for the finals this summer will depend entirely on his rehabilitation programme.

England open their campaign in South Africa on 12 June with a match against the United States but Cole will have to convince Capello he is back to full fitness before he names his 23-man squad.

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Ironically, Cole's injury will provide former Chelsea team-mate Wayne Bridge with the chance to become Capello's first-choice left-back. Bridge has been at the centre of a media storm involving his former Stamford Bridge team-mate John Terry in recent weeks.

Terry was stripped of the England captaincy by Capello after newspaper allegations he had an affair with Bridge's ex-girlfriend – one-time French lingerie model Vanessa Perroncel.

A spokesman for Chelsea confirmed Cole would miss the next three months of the season.

"Ashley suffered a fracture to his left ankle in last night's game against Everton and is expected to be out of action for approximately three months," he said.

Chelsea are fortunate they have enough cover to cope with Cole's absence. Russia international Yury Zhirkov is comfortable at left-back and Portugal international Paulo Ferreira can also play in the same position despite being signed by former manager Jose Mourinho as a right-back.

Chelsea's defeat at Everton has left them just one point clear of Manchester United at the top of the Barclays Premier League.

Terry, reeling from the loss of the England captaincy and further revelations about his private life, was at fault for both of Everton's goals at Goodison Park.

The club have since given the defender permission to fly out to Dubai in a bid to patch up his marriage to wife Toni.

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Terry left Heathrow yesterday morning and will miss tomorrow's FA Cup fifth-round tie with Cardiff at Stamford Bridge.

Terry was escorted to the runway at London's Heathrow airport shortly after 8.30am yesterday for his flight to Dubai.

Confirming that Terry had been given permission to have a few days' break, Chelsea assistant manager Ray Wilkins said: "John won't play this weekend. "(Manager] Carlo (Ancelotti] has given him a bit of time off and he will come back and play against Wolves (in the league] on the 20th."

"John isn't infallible, he will miss headers and he will get beaten in the air," added Wilkins. "But he has been absolutely outstanding for us. We have been delighted with the way he has played."