Ballack lets second chance at World Cup final slip
DORTMUND, July 5: If heroism in football is about seizing the moment, Germany captain Michael Ballack could not quite live up to the role as he let a second chance of playing in a World Cup final slip through his grasp.
Two Italian goals at the very end of extra time of a compelling semi-final consigned the hosts to a 2-0 defeat last night.
''It's not that Italy didn't deserve to win,'' he told reporters after the match. ''But it is very bitter.'' The stage was set for the 29-year-old Ballack to provide the inspiration for his young team mates and make up for his personal disappointment at missing the last World Cup final through suspension.
Ballack, who will move from Bayern Munich to Chelsea next season, has made late, match-winning goals a speciality throughout his career, scoring an impressive 31 times in 69 appearances for Germany before the semi-final.
But yesterday, when substitutes Bastian Schweinsteiger and David Odonkor were hurling themselves forward down the wings, where was Ballack? He was doing a solid enough job in midfield, concentrating on defensive duties alongside Sebastian Kehl, but there were no long-range shots, no diving headers and none of his usual menacing runs into the penalty area.
After Fabio Grosso's curling shot had given Italy the lead n the 119th minute, Ballack did make it to the edge of the penalty area at the business end of Germany's final attack.
Sadly for the hosts, his off-balance shot that careered high and wide summed up the extent of his attacking threat in a tournament in which he failed to score.
Four years ago, it was Ballack's storming form in midfield that did more than anything to lead Germany through to the final 2-0 defeat by Brazil, which he missed after committing a tactical foul in the semi-final against South Korea.
Ballack was close to tears when asked if yesterday's defeat felt more bitter than four years ago, the midfielder offering no reply as he trudged away.
His influence in this tournament was not so great as in 2002.
He missed the 4-2 victory over Costa Rica on the opening day because of injury. When he returned he helped Germany look a lot more solid in defence but what his team would have given for one magic moment in attack.