YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — Four years after his goals helped turn Spain from perennial underachievers into European champions, star striker David Villa could end up watching the 2012 European Championship from home after breaking his left leg on Thursday.
Villa will be sidelined for up to five months, dealing Barcelona a major blow in its battle with Real Madrid for the Spanish league title and putting his place at Euro 2012 in serious jeopardy.
Villa broke the tibia in his left leg when challenging for the ball during Barcelona's 4-0 win over Al Sadd in the Club World Cup semifinals, and the Spanish champions said he will be flown back to Barcelona for surgery.
The injury means Villa will be unlikely to play again before the last few games of the season, and could weaken Spain's chances of defending its European title in June.
Spain's all-time leading scorer was tangling with two defenders in the 37th minute when he landed awkwardly. He immediately fell to the ground and called for help, before being carried off the pitch on a stretcher.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque was devastated by news of the injury to the man who was the team's top scorer with five goals during its 2010 World Cup triumph. While the 30-year-old forward is no longer a certain starter for Barcelona, he remains an integral part of the national lineup and would have been guaranteed a place in the Euro 2012 side in Poland and Ukraine.
"The news is very bad," Del Bosque was quoted as saying by Spanish news agency Europa Press. "It's a great misfortune, for him above all since he is the injured one, and looking ahead to (Euro 2012), of course this is very bad news.
"There are six months to go. Let's see if he can get well. Recovering always has its set processes, but there are some players that get healthy sooner than others."
After a 4-0 win over Al Sadd, Barcelona will play South American champion Santos in the Club World Cup final with the chance to lift its 13th trophy under Guardiola.
Villa scored 23 goals last season, his first with Barcelona. The 30-year-old Villa has seen his playing time diminish this season with the arrival of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, but he has still scored nine goals in all competitions.
"Missing him in the team is going to be a blow," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "I understand it is going to be a long time. We all love David. His personality is great. We all worry about him."
The downbeat mood was shared by Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
"This is very bad news on what was supposed to be a happy day moving on to a historic final," Valdes said, adding that the team would dedicate the title to Villa if they win.
The possible loss of Villa would leave Spain coach Vicente del Bosque with out-of-form Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, Athletic Bilbao's Fernando Llorente and Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo competing for places up front. In-form Valencia scorer Roberto Soldado would be Villa's likely replacement if he doesn't recover in time.
Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed to this report.