Spain international Carles Puyol faces six weeks on the sidelines for knee surgery, his club announced on Tuesday, almost certainly ruling him out of the Euro 2012 campaign.
The 34-year-old Barcelona captain will have a knee arthroscopy, the team said in a statement, removing him from the domestic King's Cup and delivering a major blow to Spain's European Championship defence.
"According to a report from the medical service, the player ended last Saturday's game against RCD Espanyol with problems in the right knee," Barcelona said.
"After conducting complementary tests, it was decided that the player should undergo an arthroscopy on May 12," it said.
In the procedure, a tiny camera is inserted into the knee through small incisions and damaged tissue can be repaired or removed.
The club said Puyol would need about six weeks to recover.
That makes it almost impossible for the defender to take a spot in the Spain team for their Euro 2012 campaign in Poland and Ukraine.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque will release a provisional line-up on May 15 and a definitive list on May 27. Spain, who are defending their European title, play their first game on June 10 against Italy.
"It is a major loss," Del Bosque told the online edition of the biggest selling sports daily Marca.
"Beyond whether it hurts my plans or not, he is a charismatic lad and very important, who was just a step away from 100 games with the Spain team. He is a good lad and it would have been a great moment. A pity," he said.
Del Bosque had been instrumental in encouraging Puyol to stay with the team after he raised the possibility of leaving the national squad after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Finally, he decided to stick with Spain until the world champions had defended their title in the Euro 2012, after Del Bosque held out the bait of reaching 100 games with the squad.
The knee surgery means Puyol will also miss the final of the domestic King's Cup competition on May 25, when Barcelona face Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish capital's Vicente Calderon stadium.
His absence will be keenly felt in the Spain squad, already hit by doubts over Puyol's Barcelona team-mate, striker David Villa, who broke his leg December 15 in Barcelona's Club World Cup semi-final win over Al Sadd.
Del Bosque said Friday he would keep a spot open for the 30-year-old Villa until the last moment to see if he recovers in time.
"We have an obligation and also a conviction that we should wait until the last moment in David's case because he has been our most reputable goal scorer, the surest player and we should wait, of course."
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has said Villa's recovery is going "very well" and that he hopes the striker, dubbed King David for his 51 goals in 82 internationals, will be able to join the Euro 2012 squad.