End of an era as Germany dump Ballack

Berlin: Michael Ballack, a towering figure in German football for the past decade, is no longer part of the national squad after 98 appearances for his country, the national federation (DFB) said on Thursday.

"I have discussed things openly with Michael Ballack, most recently in our meeting at the end of March 2011 and in numerous phone calls since then," coach Joachim Loew said.

"With the Euro 2012 season about to start the time has come for me to make a clear statement."

The former Chelsea and Bayern Munich midfielder, 34, has not played for Germany since the national side lost 1-0 to Argentina in Munich in a March 2010 friendly.

In terms of performance at least, his absence has not been felt.

Injured in a brutal tackle by Portsmouth`s Kevin-Prince Boateng in the FA Cup final, Ballack played no part in the World Cup last year, when Germany played some of the best football of the tournament to finish third.

And in the qualifying campaign for Euro 2012 hosted by Poland and Ukraine, Germany are sitting pretty at the top of their qualifying group with a 10-point lead, virtually assuring a berth for the Germans -- and no thanks to Ballack.

In his place Philipp Lahm has captained the side, leading to a war of words between the Bayern Munich defender and Ballack, who has repeatedly indicated that he saw leading the team as his right.

"I am captain of the national side," he insisted last June.

But in Germany`s first match after the World Cup, against Azerbaijan in September, Loew did not pick Ballack, despite him being fit again.

He also played no part in games this year against Azerbaijan, Austria and Uruguay.

"Recent months have shown that lots of young players with promising futures have appeared on the scene. Since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the development of the national team has been absolutely positive," Loew said.

"Michael Ballack was for a decade a very important leading player in the national side and contributed enormously to the great successes of the team after the 2002 World Cup," added Loew, coach since 2006.

"He shaped an era and as captain always put himself at the service of the team, as I was able to witness at close quarters at the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008."

Father-of-three Ballack, who, unlike most of his team-mates, grew up in communist East Germany, has scored 42 goals for his country, having made his debut against Scotland in 1999.

He missed the 2002 World Cup final against Brazil because of suspension, a match Germany lost.

Ballack played for Bayern Munich from 2002 and 2006 before moving to Chelsea for a four-year stint at Stamford Bridge. Last season he returned to Bayer Leverkusen, but fractured his leg in only his third game back and only played 17 times.

The team though came second in the Bundesliga, giving Ballack Champions League football to look forward to next season. The DFB said it hoped that Ballack would take part in a friendly against Brazil in Stuttgart in southwest Germany on August 10 for what it called a "worthy farewell" and 99th appearance -- and as captain.

But, according to sources, Ballack will refuse to play.

Bureau Report

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