Ballack backed by Löw to bounce back from injury and earn Germany recall

Germany coach Joachim Löw has said midfielder Michael Ballack can still return to the national team despite his latest injury setback. Ballack turns 34 later this month. He missed the World Cup with an ankle injury and now faces a six-week lay-off with a new leg injury.

The Bayer Leverkusen player officially remains Germany captain but Löw has said he must regain his pre-injury form to earn his place back. Löw said that "in principle I think Michael Ballack can come back again, because he is driven by enormous ambition."

He added that Ballack has never shied away from fighting for his place, but that "such a situation is not easy" because "time goes on ... new, young players come in."

In Italy talks to resolve a proposed player strike later this month will resume tomorrow after Serie A and the players' association presidents failed to find common ground. The Serie A president Maurizio Beretta and players' association president Sergio Campana met in Milan and left the talks confident that an accord will soon be reached.

Beretta said "on Friday morning the two parties shall meet again and we both have a responsibility to ensure it is a constructive meeting. It will be a closed meeting and possibly be concluded on the day." Italy's players announced the strike action in response to a proposal to limit their rights to refuse a transfer near the end of their contracts.

The Serbia coach, Radomir Antic, was sacked yesterday and replaced by former Yugoslavia midfielder Vladimir Petrovic, the Serbian Football Association (FSS) said.

"We made a unanimous decision to terminate the contract with Antic. We gave him a second chance after the World Cup fiasco but we got ourselves into a predicament and we really had no choice," FSS president Tomislav Karadzic said. Antic had blamed the referee for Serbia's 2-1 World Cup Group D defeat by Australia which cost his team a berth in the second round of the tournament in South Africa.

"Antic turned out to be a good short-term solution but left a lot to be desired in the long run. Petrovic will sign until the end of 2011 and his contract will be automatically extended if we qualify for Euro 2012," Karadzic said.

Petrovic, who played for Arsenal in the 1982-83 season and made 34 appearances for the former Yugoslavia, steered Serbia and Montenegro to the final of the 2004 European Under-21 championship in Germany.

Saudi Arabia's Al Shabab and South Korea's Seongnam Ilhwa have recorded impressive wins in the first leg of their Asian Champions League quarter-finals. Al Shabab won 2-0 away at South Korea's Jeonbuk Hyundai, while Seongnam had a 4-1 home win against domestic rivals Suwon Blue Wings in yesterday's games.

Al Shabab scored midway through the second half through Fahad Hamad, and despite being reduced to 10 men late in the half, boosted the advantage ahead of the second leg with a second goal from Uruguyan Juan Manuel Oliveira.

Seongnam better handled a poor playing surface and won convincingly. Montenegran striker Dzenan Radoncic opened the scoring and got another in the second half, with Colombian Mauricio Molina and So Hong-yeung also scoring for the hosts. Yeom Ki-hun got Suwon's goal.

Champions and co-costs Vietnam have been drawn with three-times winners Singapore in the 2010 AFF Cup, South-east Asia's premier football tournament. Myanmar will be the third team in Group B and will be joined by a qualifier following yesterday's draw. The event, held every two years, will be co-hosted by Vietnam and Indonesia in December following a four-team qualifying event in Laos in October.

In Group A, co-hosts Indonesia, who played in three straight finals from 2000 but have yet to win the tournament, will meet three-times champions Thailand, coached by former England captain Bryan Robson, and Malaysia, who are on a high after winning the SEA Games football title last December.

Two spots were left open in the draw for the first and second-placed teams from qualifying at the National Sports Complex in Vientiane involving hosts Laos, Cambodia, Philippines and East Timor next month.

Vietnam will prepare by playing North Korea and the Under-23 teams from Australia and Kuwait in a round-robin tournament from 20 September to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the nation's capital, Hanoi.

The Singapore coach, Radojko Avramovic, was happy with his Lions'chances, too. "The group we are in is slightly easier than the other group where there will be three title contenders in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia," he said.

"Overall, I am happy with the draw. Our target in this tournament is to reach the final, Avramovic added.

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