AFP - David Beckham's dreams of playing in a fourth World Cup looked doomed on Sunday after he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon injury.
The 34-year-old former England captain was hurt in AC Milan's 1-0 Serie A win over Chievo at the San Siro, a victory which helped close the gap on league leaders Inter.
"A rupture of the Achilles tendon is suspected," said a statement on the AC Milan official website.
AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani said that the player will be out for "probably five or six months".
The World Cup gets underway in South Africa on June 11.
"I saw him and he was suffering. In the dressing room, I took him in my arms and told him that if he wanted, he will be with us next year."
Milan coach Leonardo said: "David's injury is bad for us. This was an important victory tonight, but this injury prevents us from really enjoying it.
"It's an important injury and we need to be able to judge how serious it is.
"David realised straightaway what had happened. He understood that it was a serious problem and he said so immediately. It’s such a great shame. He's a great lad who makes a huge contribution to the team."
Beckham, desperate to feature in Fabio Capello's England squad for South Africa and play in a fourth World Cup finals, twisted his left ankle during the final minutes of Sunday's match.
He limped off the field and was stretchered away in pain and in tears.
It's understood that he will undergo surgery in Finland on Monday.
"This injury has been a heavy blow for him and for us. Unfortunately the party is ruined," added Leonardo.
Dutch veteran Clarence Seedorf, who had scored Milan's last-minute winner in the game, said he had great sympathy for Beckham.
"David is very bad. When it happened, it didn't seem to be a big thing, but eventually it looked to be a serious enough injury," said Seedorf.
Milan defender Ignazio Abate said the England star was inconsolable.
"He's not doing well. He was in tears in the dressing room, he wasn't saying a lot. This has affected us all."
Earlier Sunday, Beckham had admitted he was far from certain to win a place in England's squad for the World Cup finals.
Beckham was an unused substitute in England's recent friendly win over Egypt as Capello opted to look at Theo Walcott and Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right wing instead of the veteran for the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.
The 34-year-old joined AC Milan on loan in January in an attempt to convince Capello he could still make an impact at the highest level, but he has been left on the bench several times during his spell at the San Siro.
An injury crisis at the club, however, meant he was handed a rare start on Sunday only to suffer the major injury.
"We wish him a speedy recovery," MLS commissioner Don Garber said.
Beckham is England's most-capped outfield player and has played in three World Cups.
Quoted in several newspapers in England on Sunday, former Manchester United midfielder Beckham said: "Am I banking on going to the World Cup? No, not at all.
"I am not guaranteed to go to South Africa. I have to work hard and hopefully win my place.
"There are a good few months left and plenty of games to play, but hopefully I can carry on playing well and get in the squad."