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   June 26, 2002 | 1600 IST


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Ballack irreplaceable, says Voeller

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Patrick Vignal

Michael Ballack cannot be replaced, Germany coach Rudi Voeller said on Wednesday in a tribute to the inspiration behind the triple champions' run to the World Cup final.

"He has so much class that you just can't replace him," said Voeller, who will miss his playmaker when his team chase a fourth title against either Brazil or Turkey in the Japanese port city of Yokohama on Sunday.

"Even when he's not 100 per cent fit he's capable of scoring at any time," the former World Cup striker said of the elegant midfielder.

Michael Ballack, after scoring in the semi-final.Ballack hit the winner in Tuesday's 1-0 semi-final victory over South Korea but had earlier ruled himself out of the final with a bookable offence that might have saved his team from conceding a goal.

Ballack, who had also scored the winning goal in the 1-0 win over the United States that sent Germany through to the last four, played down his role in the battle against the co-hosts in Seoul.

"I'm no hero," the 25-year-old said on Wednesday, trying his best to conceal his bitterness from having to sit out the greatest occasion a football player can dream of.

"Many players would have done what I did."

Ballack was in front of his television when French defender Laurent Blanc suffered the same fate in the semi-final of the 1998 World Cup, which did not stop France from crushing Brazil 3-0 in the final.

"I remember feeling sorry for him," Ballack said. "Now it's my turn."


Arguably the only genuine world class player apart from keeper Oliver Kahn in the Germany team, Ballack entered the World Cup far below his best form.

But despite a bruised right foot and a sore calf muscle which he was not able to rest in a crowded season's finale with his Bayer Leverkusen side, he played a crucial role in Germany's revival.

By scoring three goals, setting up four more and compensating for his poor fitness with a great dedication illustrated by his sacrifice in the semi-final, he confirmed how vital he was to a team now forced to continue without him.

"The team have gathered so much self-confidence that nothing can throw them off balance now," he said.

"I don't know how I'll feel just before the game but my heart will be with the team and I wish them all the best," he added.

While Voeller had comforting words for Ballack immediately after the game, the mood among his team mates was not of great pity.


"They offered consolation, briefly," Ballack said.

Ballack with coach Rudi Voeller"It's normal. As a player, you have to concentrate on yourself. The players felt for me but they are also fighting for a place in the team. That's football."

Ballack's suspension leaves Voeller short of options as fellow creative midfielders Sebastian Deisler and Mehmet Scholl pulled out injured in the build-up to the finals.

Borussia Dortmund's Lars Ricken has a similar profile but has not been tested at this World Cup and the favourite to step in was the more defensive Jens Jeremies.

Ballack, who will join Jeremies at Bayern Munich next season, was desperate to play in the final to make up for the frustration of missing out on three titles with Leverkusen, the perpetual runners-up of German soccer.

"We played fantastic football all season and we proved here that we can also help the national side," Ballack said of the Leverkusen players who form the backbone of the Germany team.

But finals are not what the Leverkusen players do best, as they demonstrated by losing both the Champions League and German Cup finals this season, not to mention their second place to Dortmund in the Bundesliga.

"Perhaps the fact that I will not be in the final is a good sign," Ballack said.

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