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LONDON (Reuters) - Italy suffered a serious blow ahead of next month's World Cup when midfielder Riccardo Montolivo broke his leg during a warm-up game against Ireland at Craven Cottage on Saturday.
"It's what we feared, a fractured tibia. It will probably need some months, Riccardo is out of the World Cup. He didn't deserve this," team doctor Enrico Castellacci told Rai TV.
The elegant AC Milan midfielder was accidentally caught in a challenge by defender Alex Pearce after 10 minutes and, having stood up to test his leg, went to ground and was carried off on a stretcher after five minutes of treatment on the field.
The 29-year-old Montolivo was taken to hospital for an X-ray where it was confirmed he had suffered a fractured tibia.
Italy also had to substitute Montolivo's replacement Alberto Aquilani, who only played for 23 minutes before he went off after taking a knock to the head in a match that finished 0-0.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said the entire squad were shocked and devastated by the injury to Montolivo.
"All our thoughts are with Riccardo and we will have to wait till tomorrow to make a rational assessment of the situation.
"We fly back to Florence tomorrow and will sit down and assess the condition of all the players in the squad. The impact of what happened affected everyone tonight.
"He is a key player in the squad, a reference point on and off the pitch with a great attitude. He did not deserve this and everyone is just shocked."
Prandelli said Montolivo, who was winning his 58th cap and took the field as captain on the night, would not travel back with the squad to Florence but would be taken on a special flight straight to Milan where he will undergo surgery.
Reporting by Mike Collett; Additional reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris