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Home >> Sports
UPDATED: 20:43, June 08, 2006
Hosts' hope pendent on Ballack's injured calf
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Michael Ballack's absence will certainly add extra spice to Friday's World Cup curtain-raising match when all hosts' hope has come down to their captain's injured calf.

The German superstar, who suffered a calf strain in Germany's final friendly against Colombia, had been struggling with the injury in last weeks and was finally declared on Thursday to be unfit for the opening fixture.

"He is not available. Ballack was forced to end practice yesterday after 30 minutes and it does not look as if he will be able to play tomorrow," German coach Jurgen Klinnsman told a news conference.

Although very few people will bet against the hosts even if the Chelsea new boy did miss the match against Costa Rica, the Central American minnows refused to be underdogs.

"I think we have good chance to win. Germany have good players, but we also have good players," said Costa Rican Douglas Sequeira, who now plays in the United States.

Fighting for victory had become a common sense shared among Costa Rican people. It was surprising to see they took it as a serious belief rather than merely a good wish, especially on the back of a 4-0 friendly drubbing to Ukraine, who were without their star striker Andriy Shevchenko.

The Ticos had been dreadful in the recent warm-up games. They also lost 1-0 to the Czech Republic and 2-0 against a Catalan selection.

However, when you have nothing to lose, you fear nothing. And the situation is just the opposite to the hosts.

"There is pressure on us, I won't deny it," Klinsmann said this week, "It's crucial to have a good start because we play in our own country."

His Costa Rican counterpart Alexandre Guimaraes turned a deaf ear to Ballack's injury, which might be a blessing when they face the hosts.

"We're to play against a nation, not against one person," he said upon arrival in Munich on Wednesday.

But it is no denying that Ballack's absence will add their chance to shock the world. And the biggest problem is that Germans can not afford to lose their captain.

The talented midfielder may not be needed though for this match and German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann said in the Mirror that Ballack could be replaced for one game.

"But it would be terrible for us if Michael was out for any longer," Lehmann said.

Ballack's injury hit just at the time domestic expectations ran too high, which seriously affected the whole nation's morale. That might prove to be a deathblow.

Think about France four years ago when Zinedine Zidane was heavily burdened with injury and all national hope.

France, as defending champions and biggest favorites, suffered an unexpected loss in their opening match against Senegal in the 2002 tournament and then were ousted in the first round without a win or a goal.

It is not impossible that history might be repeated, considering the frequency of a favored nation failing to win the opening match of a major international tournament.

Costa Ricans are making their third appearance in the World Cup and the second one in succession.

They managed third in the first stage group in 2002, losing out only to eventual semi-finalists Turkey on goal difference. But they were the only squad to score two goals against Brazil.

And this time, they might also take advantage of the hosts' inexperienced backline.

Unlike previous generations, this German side appear to have defensive problems. With Jens Lehman not disguising his unhappiness about the official ball, it will not be a surprise if the visitors breach the hosts at least once.

German youthful backline looked vulnerable on countless occasions in a 2-2 friendly against Japan and even Ballack admitted that they had work to do on the defense to ensure success in the World Cup.

"We need to be more concerned about our defense," he said. "That game showed we still have not sorted out the same problems we have been having for the last two years. It is our offensive philosophy to play quickly to the front but we are losing too many balls."

Source: Xinhua

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