Joachim Loew, the Germany manager, told his players pull together after the "shock" news that his captain Michael Ballack would miss the World Cup. Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt, the national team doctor, delivered the news Loew had been dreading this morning: his most influential player had suffered ankle ligament damage and faces up to eight weeks on the sidelines.
Ballack, 33, underwent an MRI scan in Munich, after which the German Football Association (DFB) released a statement which read: "Captain Michael Ballack is out of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. "A tear of the medial collateral ligament of the right ankle was found. The right ankle is immobilised in a plaster. He will have to wear a special shoe for two weeks. Ballack's return to training is possible at the earliest in eight weeks."
Ballack, the Chelsea midfielder, sustained the injury in Saturday's FA Cup final win over Portsmouth following a heavy challenge from Kevin-Prince Boateng. The pair had been involved in a scuffle moments earlier. Ballack, who has won 98 caps for his country, said: "This is obviously very disappointing, but you have to accept it. That is football, it must go on somehow." Loew had earlier spoken of his desperation for his captain to be given the all-clear and he was understandably downbeat when the prognosis was delivered.
Speaking from Germany's training base in Sicily, Loew said: "Of course we are shocked. "The loss of Michael Ballack is serious. It is not an easy situation for Michael and for us all. We are all very, very sad that such an important player, our captain, who is a true world-class player has been ruled out." Loew was quick to point out, however, that Ballack's absence should not derail Germany's preparations for South Africa.
He added: "It is clear that it will be difficult without Ballack but we want to achieve what we have planned. We will work hard and focus all our energy on the group stage. Being resigned [to our fate] should not be talked of. Now is the time to focus all our efforts. "Experience teaches us that in such cases, young players often come to the fore and grow." Berti Vogts, the former Germany coach, hopes that Ballack's absence will enable the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger to take on a more prominent role. Schweinsteiger has been successfully converted from a right-sided winger into a central midfielder this season by Louis van Gaal, the Bayern Munich manager. Vogts said: "His [Ballack's] absence could prompt other players to give more.
"Bastian, for example, is in superb form and I think he can be one of the leading personalities at this World Cup." * PA