For the 32 national football sides heading to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, pre-tournament friendlies are a necessary evil. Necessary because competitive tune-ups are essential if they hope to be in top form for their opening matches. Evil because players can get hurt, even in matches that don't count for anything.
The second round of friendlies got under way today (more are scheduled for tomorrow), and already the necessary evil has taken a nasty toll.
First Italy's Riccardo Montolivo had to be subbed out of today's match with Ireland, and the diagnosis is heartbreaking.
Castellacci (Italy doctor): "It's what we feared for Montolivo, a broken tibia." #ItaIrl
— Giancarlo Rinaldi (@ginkers) May 31, 2014
It was even worse later, as Mexico faced off with Ecuador. A mere two minutes after he scored El Tri's first goal on a beautiful strike from 20 yards, Luis Montes had to be stretchered off after sustaining a gruesome injury of his own.
The official word: fractured tibia and fibula. It goes without saying that his World Cup dreams are over, too.
Mexico captain Rafa Marquez was subbed at the half after picking up a foot injury and was taken to the hospital. Mercifully, he appears to be okay.
Not so fortunate was Segundo Castillo, the Ecuadorian involved in the play where Montes was injured. He tore his ACL on the play and is also out of the Cup.
Not that practice is necessarily any safer - Costa Rica's Alvaro Saborio was ruled out of the Copa a few days ago after breaking his foot in training.
We're only halfway through Hold Your Breath Season. All 32 teams have another friendly or two slated; the US has Turkey tomorrow and then Nigeria next Saturday. But hopefully we've seen the last of the horror injuries, and with luck everyone will make it to Brazil in top health.
If not - if, knock on wood, the Yanks should lose a player in Necessary Evil Tour 2014 - well, Landon Donovan is standing by, huh?