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Ballack clings on to captaincy but will he make the team?
When Germany coach Joachim Loew confirmed Michael Ballack as team captain this week he put an end to a tug-of-war with defender Philipp Lahm. Lahm had been the captain at the World Cup in South Africa and wanted to remain after Ballack’s return from injury.
The 33-year-old Ballack was forced to miss the tournament due to an ankle injury but had insisted he was the undisputed team captain. Yet without Ballack’s heavy presence in midfield, Germany played exciting fast-paced football in South Africa, finishing in third place with their youngest World Cup squad in 76 years and winning considerable respect.
Germany’s young players, including joint-top World Cup scorer Thomas Mueller, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Jerome Boateng immediately became household names. Ozil and Khedira signed for Real Madrid, Mueller extended his contract at Bayern Munich and Boateng joined Manchester City
Loew opted to stick with Ballack as captain going into the Euro 2012 qualifiers yet the Bayer Leverkusen skipper will not play in the upcoming games against Belgium and Azerbaijan. Loew said he lacks match practice. It is also unclear whether he will be called up for the qualifiers in October. By that time he will be 34.
So Loew appears to have found a compromise that sees Ballack save face without actually returning for now. Still waiting for an answer over the long term is whether he will ever get back into the starting line-up.
Loew has made it clear that Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger, both of whom play in Ballack’s favoured holding midfield position, will be his first choices even when Ballack is fully fit. And why wouldn’t they be? Khedira is 23, Schweinsteiger is 26 and the two have seamlessly combined from day one. Ballack, long the alpha male in the squad, will have to consider the possibility of being second choice, accepting a place on the bench as Lahm leads the starting team into a game as captain.
Ballack has considerable star power in Germany and when he is fit he still remains a force to be reckoned with but whether that will be enough to give him one last shot at a major trophy, something that has eluded him for so long, remains to be seen.