Ballack’s absence not felt in World Cup opener

The absence of injured captain Michael Ballack at the World Cup

has created new possibilities in Germany’s style.

Without Ballack for the entire tournament due to an ankle

injury, Germany opened its schedule with a one-sided 4-0 win over

Australia that made few people remember the captain.

Ballack’s role on the field has been shared by Bastian

Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira, who executed very well against

Australia.

Many German fans are wondering if the team is better off without

the 33-year-old Ballack, whose contract with Chelsea wasn’t

extended after expiring earlier month.

“Michael Ballack was an important player and he has immense

experience,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said Monday. “For the

moment, we are managing without him.”

Whether Loew’s use of the past tense was intentional or a slip

of the tongue remains unclear, but Ballack may find it hard to

return to a successful team filled with youngsters.

Ballack’s injury in the FA Cup final stunned Germany and left

the three-time world champion without its most recognized

player.

But Loew didn’t complain for too long. He always said he had

confidence in his team, the second youngest at the World Cup in the

country’s history with an average age of just under 25.

Ballack’s role recently was limited to securing Germany’s

defense rather than making thrusting runs on goal, a trademark of

his earlier years.

Khedira reminds him of a “young Ballack,” said Loew in another

telling remark.

Ballack has always believed Germany had to first tighten its

defense before pushing forward. Loew, however, has instilled a

flowing, quick-passing style that plays at a faster tempo without

Ballack and is less predictable.

With Schweinsteiger moving from the right wing into a deeper

role in front of the back four, Khedira has been entrusted with

making runs at the defense.

Mesut Oezil, widely praised by his teammates for his sparkling

performance against Australia, would have found it difficult to win

a spot in the starting lineup if Ballack was healthy. Oezil’s

creative flair and speed have given Germany an added quality.

“The way he moves the ball and gives our game fluidity makes

him extremely valuable,” Loew said.

Ballack has said he would like to play at the 2012 European

Championship. If he does return, he may find himself in a much less

influential role.