Germany's Ballack dependency all too obvious

BERLIN - Germany's chronic case of Ballack dependency must have made Wednesday's 2-1 defeat by England uncomfortable viewing for coach Joachim Loew.

Loew won a trial of strength with his captain last month when Michael Ballack was forced to apologise for a newspaper interview in which he criticised the coach.

Ballack's main concern seemed to be that German coaches are too ready to discard senior players, and particularly since the defeat by Spain in the final of Euro 2008.

Loew makes no apology for judging his players on form rather than reputation but in that sense there will have been plenty to worry him in the match against England.

It is unwise to read much into the results of international friendlies, and this match was only decided by a John Terry header six minutes from time, but Loew must wish he had the sort of strength in depth available to Fabio Capello.

In place of the central midfield pairing of Ballack and Torsten Frings, Loew chose Simon Rolfes and Jermaine Jones but the results were not good, as a more skilful and more patient England team took control in the centre of the pitch.

Bastian Schweinsteiger, only 24 but winning his 62nd cap, made no impact at all, while young goalkeeper Rene Adler made a bad mistake on the first goal and Heiko Westermann, Piotr Trochowski and Marvin Compper played well below their club form.

"We will learn from this game," Loew told reporters. "For each player that played here against such strong opponents, it is good experience for the future."

That is certainly true, and Loew will have no trouble sleeping with his team leading their qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup.

The worry will remain, however, that without Ballack, Germany look a second-rate team.

Just as well the two men managed to smooth things over.