Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
Germany captain Michael Ballack was in the stands to watch his team lose 2-1 to Australia in a friendly on Tuesday, the first time he was present since their World Cup quarter-final win over Argentina last year.
He was in no mood for any chats with reporters, opting to sit back and watch the game, surely knowing that his own international career is quickly drawing to an end.
The last time the 34-year-old Bayer Leverkusen midfielder played for Germany was in March last year against Argentina when he won his 98th cap. An ankle injury meant he missed out on the World Cup in South Africa and a shinbone injury in September ruled hin out of the first half of the current Bundesliga campaign.
German media have speculated about the player’s possible return to the team but as much as Ballack would like to get another, last, shot at a major title at Euro 2012, it looks highly unlikely that this will happen.
Critics said the World Cup lacked quality because the players were tired after a long, draining season.
Yet with the golden glow of Spain’s triumph still glistening in a Madrid trophy cabinet, clubs are already hawking their players around the world for pre-season friendlies. OK, those who reached the latter stages in South Africa are still on holiday but they will be back very quickly to join team mates who began their pre-season work at the start of July.
Like so often in the modern game, arranging international friendlies is much easier if you happen to be a big and powerful footballing nation.
While this week offered three lucrative and prestigious friendlies — Brazil-Italy, Spain-England and France-Argentina — smaller countries were left scratching around for opposition.
Like political pundits on local election night, football reporters can’t help reading too much into the results of international friendlies.
Pretty much the least interesting thing about England’s error-strewn 2-1 win over Germany in Berlin on Wednesday was the result, but there was food for thought in the performances of two under-strength teams.
England are without Beckham, Gerrard, Rooney, Ferdinand, Heskey, Owen and a couple of Coles, and Theo Walcott has now joined the injured list.
A Steve McClaren tribute band. Wasters. Shapeless, aimless and hopeless, tactically chaotic and technically stunted, a mess from start to finish.
These are just some of the examples of the stinging criticism dished out by the tabloids after England’s turgid performance in a 2-2 friendly draw with Czech Republic on Wednesday.
Watching a rudderless Italy at Euro 2008 was like having my teeth pulled out.
Wednesday’s 2-2 friendly draw against Austria in Marcello Lippi’s first game back in charge since winning the World Cup was less painful, but serious problems persist.
Gone are the days of a rock solid Italian defence. Sure Fabio Cannavaro is still injured having missed the stuttering run to the Euro quarter-finals, but even he is not the player he was.
My colleague Zoran Milosavljevic was enthused about Wednesday’s batch of friendlies but not everyone was so impressed. Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger both pondered the death of the international friendly after the midweek ‘action’ and they were not alone.
Other than the dramatic 4-3 victory by the Dutch, who had been trailing 3-0 to Euro 2008 co-hosts Austria, Wednesday’s games were a poor advert for mid-season international football with many players coming back injured — much to the annoyance of their club managers.