Ballack beauty helps Germany beat Wales

CARDIFF - A long-range strike from Michael Ballack helped Germany continue their smooth progress towards the 2010 World Cup with a 2-0 win over Wales on Wednesday. Ballack set the Group Four leaders on their way with a 25-metre blast before an own goal from Ashley Williams condemned John Toshack's young Wales side to back-to-back home defeats. Germany remain top of the group with 16 points from six matches, four points ahead of chief rivals Russia. Wales are now 10 points off the lead. "It worked well today," Germany striker Lukas Podolski told ARD television. "It is important that we won, another three in the bag and we can now look forward. Wales manager Toshack was without captain Craig Bellamy and Jason Koumas, who were among five players missing from the side that that fell to a disappointing defeat to Finland on Saturday. A new-look Wales made the worst possible start when Ballack gave the Germans an 11th minute lead, firing past Wayne Hennessey from 25 yards out. Wales threatened to respond when Robert Earnshaw was denied by visiting goalkeeper Robert Enke. Mario Gomez shot inches wide in the 32nd minute before Podolski and Thomas Hitzlsperger were brilliantly kept out in quick succession by Hennessey. Wales remained in touch and threatened to stun the Germans when James Collins headed Gareth Bale's free kick just wide moments before half-time. Any hope of a Wales comeback all but disappeared when Williams put through his own net in the 48th minute. Gomez pulled the ball back into the danger zone and, as Williams stretched out to divert the cross, he could only turn the ball home. "It does not matter how it went in," said Gomez. "It's just important that the team won."