Monday, May 17, 2010

Ballack: Biggest Injury Story Yet

Midfielder Michael Ballack, Germany's captain, will not play in South Africa 2010 because of injury.

He is not the first prospective squad member for the 32 teams heading to South Africa in a few weeks to be declared out. But he is the most prominent player yet to be sidelined. (As opposed to David Beckham, who is far more famous than competent, these days.)

Ballack was declared out of the World Cup by German medical personnel today.

What are the ramifications?

It means Germany's chances of winning the World Cup just declined. Ballack was both a leader and a producer. He played in the last two World Cups for Germany, starring for the 2002 team that fell in the final to Brazil, and performing well for the Mannschaft as recently as 2008, when the Germans were runners-up to Spain in the Euro Cup.

Ballack did not have a great season with Chelsea of the Premier League. He had a series of niggling injuries and was never quite healthy.

But none of his injuries were as severe as this one, which occurred on a vicious tackle by Kevin-Prince Boateng of Portsmouth in the FA Cup final.

Boateng, interestingly, plays for Ghana, which is in the same World Cup group as the Germans. Some whispers have been heard that Boateng didn't mind the idea of hurting Ballack in that situation, but planning an injury while playing full speed is a tricky concept.

Kevin-Prince Boateng, by the way, is the half-brother of Jerome Boateng, who (like Kevin-Prince) was born in Germany, but unlike his younger brother plays for Germany. If you followed the link, you saw that Germany's coach, Joachim Low, asked German fans not to blame Jerome for his half-brother's crude play.

Losing a player of Ballack's pedigree also makes the World Cup a bit poorer. What all serious fans want is a tournament with the best possible players in it. A World Cup without Ballack is short one great player.

England lost Beckham, who is better-known than Ballack but not remotely the player. Becks might have had trouble getting on the field for England.

Other leading players who may not be ready include Fernando Torres (knee) and Cesc Fabregas (broken leg) of Spain, though both have a chance to be there.

Unlike Ballack, who has been ruled out, period. And who, at 33, might never play in another World Cup.

That's a shame. For Ballack, the German team and for World Cup fans.

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