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Ballack's dream ends in tears
« on: July 05, 2006, 10:29:47 AM »

Ballack's dream ends in tears
By : Alan Smith in Dortmund, 05/07/2006

Tearful exit: Germany captain Michael Ballack rues a missed opportunity
It was the chance to make amends, to make sure he was available for a date in Berlin. As captain of Germany during the last World Cup in Japan, Michael Ballack had led the team all the way to the final, only to miss out in the defeat to Brazil after picking up a second yellow card in the semi-final with South Korea.

Second time around, wearing the armband again, he staggered around the pitch after an exhausting 120 minutes last night having come off second best to a brilliant Italy side. There wasn't much to say as the victors offered condolences to the tear-stained figure standing in the middle. This was the end of the host nation's adventure.

What a send-off this might have been for Germany's answer to David Beckham before heading off to west London and joining Chelsea's no-expense-spared assault on the Champions League. Instead he could only bow to a superior side clearly galvanised by the corruption scandal exploding back home.

Born in Goerlitz in the old East Germany, Ballack isn't what you would call a natural leader, partly due, they reckon, to the type of person that Communist country tended to produce. That wasn't too evident in Dortmund's magnificent arena last night as Germany got something of a chasing for large parts of this match by a vibrant Italian team intent on attacking. A quiet word here, a subtle gesture there - nothing too demonstrative but enough to confirm that he did, in fact, wear the armband.

Come the end of 90 minutes what's more, Ballack stood in the middle of the pack urging more effort. With the Azzurri using the flanks to great effect, Ballack had not been able to dominate in the way that he likes. The excellent Andrea Pirlo, his opposite number, was actually seeing more of a ball that didn't sit still for very long.

Yet when it did fall to the playmaker's feet, the quality shone through with every touch. So relaxed in possession, so beautifully poised, you could see what persuaded Jose Mourinho (if it was indeed the Chelsea manager's choice) to make sure he secured the Bayern Munich man. His old manager, for sure, wasn't looking forward to the day when Ballack walked out. ''We could find a player to replace him in terms of the role he plays, but we could never find someone with his character,'' said Felix Magath who now has to get by without his star man, a player endeavouring last night to make his mark.

One particularly smooth back-flick and swivel saw him crashing to the floor when Pirlo failed to get out of the way in time. After the break, he fell down again 25 yards out when poking the ball wide to Bernd Schneider. His assailant, Marco Materazzi, furiously gestured to the referee, waving an imaginary yellow card, clearly convinced his opponent had dived.

Talk about pot, kettles and black: this was a compelling contest but too often it was blighted by outrageous playacting from both sets of players. Even so, with the game opening up as the tempo fell a notch, Ballack was beginning to see a little more of the action, a sharp one-two with Arne Friedrich very nearly releasing the right-back for a sight of goal.

Whichever way he was shown, it did not really matter to this two-footed player. Before taking his penalty in the quarter-final shoot-out with Argentina, Jurgen Klinsmann called his captain over to ask which foot he intended taking it with.

On a less positive note, an ego the size of the Brandenberg Gate is wont to go off in its own direction. Having taken the weekend off with the rest of the squad after the final pre-tournament friendly, he reported back on the Monday with an injury - something that has never gone down too well with managers and physios alike.

Klinsmann promptly dropped him for that opening tie against Costa Rica, refusing to bend the rules for his captain.

With his bow legs, floppy hair and superior attitude, he is sure to become a love-hate figure in England; worshipped by Chelsea fans for his talent, jeered by opposing crowds for just being himself. ''Berlin, Berlin, Wir Fahren Nach Berlin!'' It had become the chant of a populace convinced their team were going all the way to the final. It wasn't to be. From July 9, Ballack will probably be lying on a beach somewhere trying to forget how close he came.

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