Ballack primed for ‘hardest Euro finals of all time’

GERMANY captain Michael Ballack believes his experience of playing in the English Premier League will help him have a successful Euro 2008 campaign, beginning in a hot atmosphere against Poland in their group B clash tomorrow night (kick-off 7.45pm).

The Chelsea midfielder hit top gear during the second half of last season, finally showing his true ability after 18 months plagued by injury and poor form.

He is now hoping to carry his form to Switzerland.

“The Premier League has certainly improved me as a footballer and I have received a lot of praise in the last few weeks,” said Ballack.

“I think after my injury, I found some good form and I’m happy to be playing in such a strong league which demands so much from you and puts you under pressure every weekend.’’

As for Germany’s chances, the 31-year-old believes this year’s European Championships could be the toughest ever.

He also tipped young Stuttgart striker Mario Gomez to make an impact.

“At such a tournament, and it will be the most intense of all, you can only have success if you are fully fit,” Ballack said. “It will be the hardest Euros of all time. The German surprise could me Mario Gomez, if he plays. He has great ability and a lot of potential.”

Ballack revealed he and his teammates had not been paying attention to the press, particularly the Polish tabloid which depicted Ballack and coach Joachim Low with decapitated heads.

“I have never had any problems with Poland, but we are only concentrating on ourselves anyway,” he added.

Polish right winger Jakub Blaszczykowski was ruled out of the championships on Thursday, Blaszczykowski, who plays for Borussia Dortmund, suffered a recurrence of a hamstring strain suffered in mid-season.

His withdrawal leaves coach Leo Beenhakker with a serious selection headache to solve. So far he has not said how he would patch the resulting hole in his right wing.

Beenhakker has called up Hertha Berlin forward Lukasz Piszczek as a replacement for Blaszczykowski.

Dutchman Beenhakker could move Ebi Smolarek from the attack to the right wing, and leave Maciej Zurawski as the sole striker.

Likely line-ups: GERMANY: Lehmann, Lahm, Metzelder, Mertesacker, Jansen, Frings, Schweinsteiger, Ballack, Borowski, Klose, Podolski.

POLAND: Boruc, Wasilewski, Bak, Jop, Wawrzyniak, Lobodzinski, Lewandowski, Golanski, Murawski, Smoralek, Zurawski.


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