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Ballack misses World Cup opener

GERMANY will be deprived of their captain and midfield inspiration for the country’s most important match in four years tonight after Michael Ballack’s calf injury stubbornly refused to heal in time.

It is hard to overestimate Ballack’s influence on Juer

gen Klinsmann’s young team, which includes three 21-year-olds in Lukas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Per Mertesacker and the 22-year-old Philipp Lahm.

Of the 11 players likely to line up against Costa Rica for tonight’s World Cup opener only four — Christoph Metzelder, Bernd Schneider, Torsten Frings and Miroslav Klose — have played in previous World Cups.

“Of course, we would have liked to have him (Ballack) in the team,” coach Juergen Klinsmann said on the eve of the Group A kickoff in Munich. “He’s our captain and our leader.”

Ballack tackles well, has an eye for a subtle pass and is a prodigious header of the ball.

His greatest asset is the ability to drag the team out of trouble when they are playing badly, throwing himself forward to win a crucial header or provoke a penalty when it is needed most.

Those qualities persuaded Chelsea to sign him on a free transfer at the end of his Bayern Munich contract and he will be one of the highest paid players in the world next season.

Ballack was one of the outstanding forces at the last World Cup, improving with every game before a yellow card in the semi-final against South Korea cost him his place in the final.

Without him, Germany lacked their most dependable source of goals, as well as direction in midfield, and they were beaten 2-0 by Brazil.

Germans are all too aware of the importance of Ballack. For the last few days, television and newspapers have been fretting over what they have called “the country’s calf muscle”.

There have been some hints of criticism for his decision to wait two days before seeking treatment on the injury but Klinsmann was quick to forgive his leading man.

“Michael has underestimated the extent of the injury . . . but of course no one is cross with him,” Klinsmann said. “Michael would give his right arm to be playing, so to speak.”

Ballack will now concentrate on getting fit for Germany’s other group games against Poland on Wednesday and Ecuador the following Tuesday.

l Meanwhile, Togo’s Prime Minister Edem Kodjo will go to Germany today to help resolve a pay dispute in the World Cup squad, a team official said yesterday.

The official’s announcement contradicted comments earlier this week that the dispute had been resolved.

“We will find a solution. It is a question of negotiation,” Togo’s technical director Camelio Akoussah told a news conference. “Our prime minister will come tomorrow.”

Togo’s players had asked for 155 000 euros (US$198 700) each to play in the finals, plus an additional 30 000 euros each per win and 15 000 euros per draw.

Team spokesman Messan Attolou said earlier this week a deal short of the initial demands of the players had been agreed.

“A solution will be found and as soon as we have found it, it will be communicated,” said striker Mohamed Kader Coubadja.

Debutants Togo are due to launch their challenge against South Korea in Frankfurt on Tuesday.

Their other Group G opponents are Switzerland and France. — Reuter.

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