England defender King chases World Cup start
With his Tottenham career hampered by chronic knee problems, the chances of Ledley King playing for England at a World Cup seemed implausible.
At times in recent years, his career even seemed to be hanging in the balance after a series of operations.
But after being included in the World Cup squad and with Rio Ferdinand out through injury, the centre back could make his first tournament appearance in six years in Saturday's opening match against the United States.
King's troublesome knees prevented him from appearing in qualifying, and the Tottenham captain only returned to the team after a three-year exile in last month's friendly against Mexico, marking his 20th England appearance by scoring.
The 29-year-old King is confident his knees can survive the rigours of playing matches in quick succession at the World Cup despite usually being limited to one training session per week and spending the rest of the time on his own in the gym.
"I always believed if I could stay fit for a long period of time then I believed I always had a chance," King said.
"There have been some difficult moments after the last few years. I don't necessarily enjoy the work I have to do inside, but as a professional I have to do that to be able to prepare to play matches ... I've shown this season [at Tottenham] I can play games in quick succession."
King's solid performances at the back helped Tottenham qualify for the Champions League for the first time next season by finishing fourth in the Premier League.
Training match key
An indication of whether King starts in Rustenburg on Saturday against the Americans will be if he partners with John Terry in central defence in Monday's training match against South African Premier League side Platinum Stars.
"Playing Monday to Saturday shouldn't be a problem for me," King said. "However many minutes I get I believe I will be ready if needed on Saturday."
King's chance to play at the 2004 European Championship came after Terry was injured and Ferdinand was suspended. Now he has to convince England coach Fabio Capello that he can forge a partnership with Terry despite being unable to train together much.
"I've known John for a long time. He's a great communicator on the pitch and that's what you need," King said. "It is difficult. We're not going to have much time forge it regardless of me training once or twice a week. Communication is key and if that's good, we have a good chance."
Capello's other central defensive options are Jamie Carragher, who has been persuaded to come out of international retirement, Matthew Upson, who missed training again Sunday with a high temperature and was restricted to gym work, or Michael Dawson, who was flown to South Africa as a replacement for Ferdinand.
Despite Ferdinand's World Cup hopes being ended by Emile Heskey's challenge in training on Friday, Capello has no plans to rest key players in the Moruleng Stadium on Monday.
"I have to play all the players that will play against the USA for 45 minutes or 60 minutes," Capello said. "I don't know if it is a major risk. I touch wood. We have to be careful about injuries but we have to prepare for that game."
Midfielder Frank Lampard will take a more cautious approach against the Platinum Stars in the wake of Ferdinand's injury.
"You have to be quite intelligent about the game," Lampard said. "You can be full-blooded to an extent without trying to put yourself at risk. The Rio injury was a freak that could have happened in training like it did, or in a match against anybody.
"As a group, we won't be flying into ridiculous tackles, but there will be an emphasis put on getting close to people and working as a team to get tight on the opposition. Once the tournament starts, you can't let players have time. We'll be working on that, rather than full contact, I'd expect."