Spain coach Vicente del Bosque faced the prospect on Thursday of David Villa's broken leg pushing the defending champions Euro 2012 hopes to breaking point.
Villa, dubbed King David for his spectacular scoring record of 51 goals in 82 internationals, faces six months on the sidelines after fracturing his left tibia in Barcelona's Club World Cup semi-final win over Al Sadd in Japan.
The 30-year-old was to be key to Del Bosque's hopes of the world champions successfully defending their European crown in Poland and Ukraine in June.
Villa hammered home his significance by scoring seven of the 26 goals that Spain scored in qualifying for next summer's finals.
But if he fails to recover, the coach will face a dilemma over who to replace him with.
Chelsea's Fernando Torres can hardly get a game in the Premier League and his scoring record at international level of 27 goals in 91 appearances suffers in comparison.
Next in the pecking order would be Valencia's Roberto Soldado, who has won just two caps and has yet to score for his country although he is the top-scoring Spaniard in La Liga with nine goals.
Del Bosque could also turn to Sevilla striker Alvaro Negredo, although a lack of mobility makes him a less attractive option and powerful Athletic Bilbao frontman Fernando Llorente -- who has seven goals in 19 internationals -- may now find himself at the head of the queue.
"Some players heal faster than others," said Del Bosque.
But he admitted: "It's really bad news not just for David most of all but also in view of Euro 2012."
Villa, despite being linked with a move away from Barcelona, has also become an integral part of the Barcelona success story.
Despite being under pressure for his place from summer signing Alexis Sanchez, Villa was the third most-used player called upon by coach Pep Guardiola after Victor Valdes and Lionel Messi.
"He broke his bone so he will be returning to Barcelona as soon as possible. It will take some time to return to the team. I'm very sad to say this. It's very unfortunate," said Guardiola in Japan.
"I was talking to the other players in the changing room and saying that to recover from a broken bone takes time. He's going back to Spain to have an operation. Missing him is a blow to our team. We are very sad and hope that he will recover as quickly as possible."
One player who won't be replacing Villa at Barcelona in the January transfer window is Torres after Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas scotched reports suggesting the club were ready to offload their �50 million misfit for a knockdown price.
British media reports earlier this week suggested Chelsea would be willing to entertain offers of around �20 million for Torres, who has struggled to command a regular starting place with the Londoners after moving from Liverpool.
However Villas-Boas ruled out a sale of Torres either in next month's transfer window or next summer.
"It's not true, I'm sorry," said Villas-Boas, adding Torres would "for sure" be at Stamford Bridge next season. "He's not available at any price."
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