Ballack plays first game since September

BERLIN - Injury-plagued Michael Ballack played his first game for four months when he came on at half-time in Bayer Leverkusen's friendly against Rot-Weiss Oberhausen on Thursday.

Ballack helped his team win 2-1 against the second division outfit in his first match since September 11, when he fractured his shinbone in the 2-2 draw with Hanover 96.

"I needed match practice and this was a good start," the 34-year-old said on Kicker magazine's website.

Ballack, who missed last year's World Cup in South Africa and has not played for Germany since injuring his ankle in the FA Cup final with Chelsea last May, joined his former club Leverkusen this season after a four-year spell in England.

Philipp Lahm took over as Germany captain in his absence and there has been much speculation in the media about whether Ballack, who has 98 caps, will regain his place in the national team let alone be reinstalled as skipper.