Ballack shakes off nearly-man tag

BERLIN: Michael Ballack shook off his reputation as the nearly-man of German football by helping Bayern Munich to two titles this season. 

The Germany playmaker narrowly missed out on three trophies with Bayer Leverkusen last season and then moved on to Bayern, hoping to be more successful there. 

Before joining Bayern, Ballack, an elegant player offering a fine combination of playmaking skills and scoring instinct, had helped Germany reach the World Cup final, only to miss the 2-0 defeat by Brazil through suspension after sacrificing himself with a tactical foul in the semi-final. 

When Bayern made a first-stage exit from this season's Champions League, their fans feared that Ballack, who says he is not superstitious and insists on wearing the number 13 shirt, had brought them bad luck. 

HAPLESS: FC Kaiserslautern goalkeeper Tim Wiese looks at the ball as it goes in from a penalty taken by Bayern Munich's Michael Ballack during the German Cup final on Saturday.--Reuterspic.

He soon proved them wrong, scoring a goals and setting up many more to help Bayern seal an 18th German title with four games left. 

Confirmation of his value came in Saturday's 3-1 German Cup final victory over Kaiserslautern, in which he scored Bayern's first two goals before setting up the third. 

“Last year I lost the final but this time I've got the trophy,” said Ballack, who lost the German Cup and Champions League finals last season with Leverkusen, the side that also finished runners-up to Borussia Dortmund in the league. 

After heading Bayern into the lead on three minutes and doubling their advantage from a penalty seven minutes later, Ballack then set up Peru striker Claudio Pizarro for Bayern's third goal five minutes into the second half. 

“It was important for all the team to win today. The early goals were the foundation stones for our victory,” he added after helping Bayern to their fourth domestic league and cup double. 

Kaiserslautern pulled one back through Germany striker Miroslav Klose with 10 minutes left but were never in contention and could not stop Bayern from signing off in style after a season marred by their dismal European campaign. 

“After 10 minutes we could have gone home,” said former Bayern great Franz Beckenbauer, now the club's supervisory board chairman.  

“When we lead 2-0, we can't be beaten. We're very good at holding on to a lead.” 

Kaiserslautern, who have won battles against relegation and financial collapse this season, will have to be content with entering the UEFA Cup, Bayern going into the Champions League. 

“With the title it was a good season but now it's a very good season,” said Bayern commercial manager Uli Hoeness. 

“We've got the double. What more could we want?” 

Success in Europe is the obvious answer to that question and will be Bayern's priority next season.  

They know they can rely on Ballack, now clearly a winner. – Reuters 

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