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Ballack must accept another second place in his career

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No matter how hard he fights. Michael Ballack even wound up with a gash above his right eye but his team was defeated 1-0 in the European Championship final against Spain and now has another runner-up medal to go with the three he collected with Chelsea this past season.

Second place yet again a month after Ballack and his FC Chelsea teammates lost a penalty shootout to Manchester United in the Champions League final and the Red Devils edged them to the Premier League title. Add that to a loss to Tottenham Hotspurs in the less prestigious League Cup final at Wembley Stadium, and that makes four runner-up prizes in four months for the Germany captain.

It also means that the nation that has won the title three times and was in its sixth final now hasn't won one of soccer's top international prizes in 12 years. Make that 14 because the next championship, the World Cup, isn't for another two years.

At the end of a game he nearly missed because of a calf muscle injury, Ballack stood near the centre circle, almost surrounded by Spanish players celebrating their deserved victory and first European title in 44 years. At first anyone would go near him. Eventually he was consoled by Germany coach Joachim Loew and, slowly, his teammates went up to share the pain he was feeling.

While Michael Ballack stands every chance of winning trophies with Chelsea next season, he must now wonder when he's going to win a title in national colours.

World Cup qualifying starts for Germany in September and those finals aren't until 2010, when he will be 33.

While Spain thoroughly deserved its victory and long overdue title, it's easy to feel sorry for Ballack. Although he won Bundesliga and cup titles with Bayern Munich, he also lost in the 2002 Champions League final when Bayer Leverkusen went down to Real Madrid.

Ballack also missed out at the 2000 and 2004 Euros when Germany was knocked out in the first round each time. He also missed out on playing in the World Cup final in 2002 in Yokohama, Japan, because of suspension and had to watch Germany lose to Brazil 2-0.

However, this final should have been made for him. The possibility of him missing the game through a calf muscle injury that flared up two days ago set up a dramatic story on the day of the final. Would Germany's captain and inspirational figure run out to lead the squad for its biggest game since the 2002 World Cup final?

When the team lineups were announced, there was a collective gasp of relief from the 15,000 German fans in the Ernst Happel Stadium and trepidation among the Spaniards that Ballack might at last produce the performance that would deny them a title they had been waiting for since the 1964 European Championship.

Showing no signs of the calf muscle injury, Ballack was in the game early and Germany created the better chances in the early stages. He pushed the ball through the legs of Spain defender Carles Puyol and delivered a cross but no German was there to take advantage.

But the talented Spain went ahead through Fernando Torres' 33rd-minute goal and, from then on, it became a struggle for Ballack and his team.

When the captain went up to challenge Spain midfielder Marcos Senna for a header, he fell to the turf with blood seeping from a cut near his right eye.

He was up after two minutes and back on the field. But the doubtful referee Rosetti ran over to him, examined his eye in the manner boxing referees do to injured fighters, and sent him off again to get more treatment. Once more Michael was lying on his leg as German trainers dabbed his eye and tried to stop the flow of blood and, forced to change his bloodstained shirt, was back on the field again.

First the calf muscle scare and now the sight of their captain lying on his back being treated for a cut. No wonder German fans don't think football gives them many breaks these days after all those years of titles and domination.

Almost as if the blow on the head had affected him, Ballack was involved in a scuffle with Spain defenders Carlos Marchena and Carles Puyol only two minutes before halftime and wound with a yellow card from Rosetti after he fouled one of the Spaniards.

He cooled down enough after the break and almost scored Germany's equalizer in the 59th minute with a first-time shot which flicked the side of the net.

With Spain chasing a second goal, however, Ballack was labouring in his midfield role and struggling to get back to help his overworked defenders. With time running out, he would stand with his hands on his hips wondering how he could manage to turn the game around.

All those runner-up medals and semifinals and near misses are a poor return for one of Germany's greats. This should have been Michael Ballack's day. The one big chance to show frustrated German fans that he could deliver the title after all those disappointments.

However, it was another great opportunity that ran away. A little like the blood that trickled down the side of his face.

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Ballack chooses yacht club for his wedding reception

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German footballer Michael Ballack has chosen an exclusive and fancy yacht club for his wedding reception later this month, according to some newspaper.

Indeed, the Chelsea midfielder is due to marry his long-time partner Simone Lambe, 30, at a ceremony ahead of the reception in the Bavarian Yacht Club on Lake Starnberg at the foot of the German Alps.

It's quite interesting to say that 400 guests are due to attend the reception, expected to take place July 14-15, the Munich newspaper tz reported.

The couple, who have known each other for 10 years and have three children, will probably wed in Munich, where they applied for a marriage licence before the European football championships in June.

Berlin’s DJ Noppe has been hired to provide the music at the reception. He carried out a similar function at Ballack’s 30th birthday party in London last year.

Ballack and his family lived near Lake Starnberg when he played for Bayern Munich before his move to Chelsea in 2006.

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