(CNN) -- England captain Rio Ferdinand is out of the World Cup finals after being injured in pre-tournament training on Friday.
The Manchester United star sustained a knee ligament injury towards the end of the first session at their South African base of Rustenburg.
Ferdinand was taken to a nearby hospital for a scan and left on crutches, the 31-year-old's hopes of playing in a third straight World Cup finals in ruins.
He was also a member of Glenn Hoddle's 1998 squad but did not play.
The Football Association confirmed the bad news in a later statement.
"Further to a scan arranged by the England medical staff immediately after training on Friday afternoon, Rio has been ruled out for four to six weeks and will therefore unfortunately miss the World Cup," it read.
"Tottenham Hotspur's Michael Dawson has been contacted today and will fly to South Africa on Friday evening.
"Steven Gerrard will lead the England team as captain in the tournament."
It is a massive blow for England and coach Fabio Capello, who said everyone in the squad was "very disappointed and sorry for Rio."
The Italian added: "It was an accidental injury in training, but had nothing to do with the pitch."
Capello is now left with a difficult selection poser for England's Group C opener against the United States on Saturday week.
He will have to chose between Tottenham's Ledley King, who has a recurrent knee injury, Matthew Upson of West Ham and Dawson, who plays alongside former captain John Terry in central defense.
Capello has already lost midfielder David Beckham in the build-up to the finals, but better news came in the return to training of key midfielder Gareth Barry, who has been recovering from an ankle injury and was last-minute inclusion in the 23-strong squad when it was whittled down from 30.
Dawson was one of the seven to miss out but has now made a quick return.