Germany worried about star midfielder’s fitness


Already hit by a series of injuries, Germany is worried about the right foot of Michael Ballack, the star player of the season who is expected to carry the team through its World Cup campaign.

The 25-year-old high-scoring midfielder has been nursing the injury for weeks through a busy end of the club season and on Saturday again missed full practice. Ballack only did some light jogging as the Germans trained near their quarters in this southern Japanese resort.

Ballack, who is leaving Bayer Leverkusen for Bayern Munich next season, will not play in Germany’s final warmup match Sunday against a local Under-21 selection.

“We don’t want to take any risks,” team chief Rudi Voeller said. “If it were a World Cup game, he would be able to play. But he should cure his injury and replenish his energy. I am optimistic about the first match.”

The three-time champion opens its World Cup campaign June 1 against Saudi Arabia in a Group E match in Sapporo.

Ballack was less optimistic than his coach.

“I still feel light pain. I had problems in the final stage of the season and I was only able to play with painkillers,” Ballack said. “But it’s getting better from day to day.”

Earlier, Ballack had told a German newspaper that he was taking painkillers every day still and that his foot needed to rest.

Ballack scored 17 Bundesliga goals for Leverkusen, putting him second on the marksmen’s list, and led the team in its quest for three titles.

In the end, Leverkusen finished second in the Bundesliga, lost the German Cup final and also lost the Champions League final against Real Madrid, but Ballack still is sure to be voted Germany’s player of the year.

There also was some good news for Germany Saturday.

Defender Marko Rehmer was back in full training after recovering from a shoulder injury. The Hertha Berlin player had been trying to regain fitness after being sidelined since March with an ankle injury.

“I feel very good. I have to use this week to get into the team system,” Rehmer said.

Voeller said Rehmer would play at least one half on Sunday and that he should be ready to face Saudi Arabia.

The Germans were hit by a series of injuries just before the World Cup that forced Voeller to drop several players — creative midfielders Mehmet Scholl and Sebastian Deisler and defenders Joerg Heinrich, Jens Nowotny and Christian Woerns.

The absence of the last two has left Voeller pondering how to set his back line — whether to play with three or four defenders.

“We have several options and we are flexible. The players are schooled in such a way that they can play both ways,” Voeller said.

The impressions from practice are that Voeller will opt for a three-man line with Christoph Metzelder, Thomas Linke and Rehmer or Carsten Ramelow.

Voeller said Sunday’s match was an opportunity to try out several different things.

“Everyone should get a chance to play. First of all, it should be fun,” he said.

Voeller said the long wait for the first World Cup match could stretch the team’s nerves.

“It’s going to be the longest week of the year, I know this from my own experience. It’s almost too long and it won’t be much fun,” said the former star forward, who won the World Cup in 1990, Germany’s last title.