Ballack misses second WC final

Four years after he saw Germany lose to Brazil because he'd been banned from the final, Ballack saw his second chance at the title match slip on Tuesday.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:34 IST
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Two World Cups, no finals, a whole lot of regret. Four years after he was forced to watch Germany lose 2-0 to Brazil because he'd been banned from the World Cup final, Michael Ballack saw his second chance at the title match slip when Italy's Fabio Grosso scored the winner in the last minutes of extra time in the Dortmund semifinal. That they won't be in a Berlin final on Sunday took Ballack and the German players a long time to digest. "The players went to sleep at five o'clock this morning, it was very quiet, no one was talking," team manager Oliver Bierhoff said on Wednesday. "The team believed in our objective. We got close. It's a very bitter loss." Ballack, on the brink of 30, is undecided if he'll have another crack at the World Cup in South Africa. "It just isn't meant to be for me," the German captain, choking back tears, replied when asked if yesterday's loss was worse than missing the 2002 World Cup final. Grosso twisted a brilliant left-foot strike inside the far post off a clever pass from Andrea Pirlo in the 119th minute before Alessandro del Piero quickly added the insurance marker in the last minute with a counter-attacking goal. Ballack - the versatile backbone of the national team - has made his name for scoring late, match-winning goals. He has 31 goals in 69 appearances for Germany. Coach Juergen Klinsmann decided at the World Cup it would be best if Ballack played deeper than usual, focussing on closing any gaps in defence before moving forward. Still, after a relatively subdued performance, the stage was set for Ballack. Less than a minute after Grosso's opening goal, Ballack had a chance to fire a long-range equaliser - but his shot was high and wide. "It's not that Italy didn't deserve to win," said Ballack, who is moving to Premier League champion Chelsea from Bayern Munich this season. "But it is very bitter for us to get eliminated like this, to allow two really late goals, one minute from time. "It's bitter but not necessarily undeserved. We started out rather slowly even though we did a much better job in the second half." In 2002, it was Ballack's goal against South Korea that put Germany in the final. Minutes before that, he'd been cautioned - his second yellow card in the knockout stage - and was forced to sit out the showdown with Brazil. Though he directed the attack and was a big presence on this national team, his scoring here has been limited to one penalty kick. He was forced to miss Germany's 4-2 win over Costa Rica on the opening day because of a calf injury. When he returned, the German defence did not concede a goal in three matches. Germany gave up a goal when it was held 1-1 after 120 minutes in its quarterfinal victory over Argentina. But Ballack, hobbling again with his calf injury, still had shots on goal and contributed a penalty in the shootout. Overall, though, the German team played above expectations. "It's no consolation that we played such a good tournament. Maybe in a week's time things will look a little less bleak," he said. (AP)