Brilliant Ballack masters the laws of momentum

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The Independent Online

The England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, may just have conceded that a date with Ecuador today rather than one with Germany yesterday was the softer option. The first group of 16 contest suggested that avoiding the hosts was a reprieve for England of no little magnitude.

Jürgen Klinsman's team, so maligned before the tournament, advance with a menace and an assuredness that will sit uneasily with all the other coaches who made it through the group stage. Germany's forwards, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, operating superbly in tandem, served only to highlight England's attacking dilemmas. And Klinsmann is blessed with a midfielder and captain for whom you suspect Eriksson would swap in his private Fantasy League all but Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard.

It was a match made for Michael Ballack's economic style ,which can infuriate some critics here yet is so easy on the eye to outsiders. The East German-born player, who will enhance Chelsea's midfield next season, dispatches the simple ball and the extravagant one with equal finesse as he strides forward imperiously.

He was instrumental in Germany's opener, fashioned other chances for Klose and Podolski, scorer of their two goals, and drove two efforts narrowly past Andreas Isaksson' posts. He was in similarly irrepressible form after the interval. Whatever that contretemps with Klinsmann over an injury amounted to at the start of the tournament, the mercurial Ballack is evidently on good terms with himself, and his team-mates. He plays down his own contribution, stating: "Talk of big personalities is nonsense. It's up to every player to step up and take responsibility. That's what happened when we got to the final in 2002." On this evidence, you can see them repeating that feat.

Lars Lagerback's team had enjoyed a rest since the draw with England. If it had refreshed them, it failed to show in a first half which brought satisfied smiles to the ubiquitous Kaiser and Chancellor. This World Cup could not exist without Franz Beckenbauer, president of Germany's World Cup organising committee, and despite having married his girlfriend Heidi Burmester the previous day, there he was, alongside Angela Merkel, before departing by helicopter for Argentina's game.

Most predictions were of a close, cautious match. Not a bit of it. Even before the rather harsh dismissal of Teddy Lucic, Klinsmann's men had asserted themselves, stretched Sweden, and swiftly placed the result beyond recall.

Sweden did not respond particularly well as the fates conspired against them. Matthias Jonson thumped Ballack in the back at the start of the second period, earning a caution. The forward was replaced by Christian Wilhelmsson just as Henrik Larsson prepared to take Sweden's penalty, and, with his eyes blazing, the substituted player motioned that the game was still there for their team. Larsson's miss from the spot ended any hope of that.

It placed England's performance on Tuesday in some context. You never expect too much from the Scandinavians, who are solid, resourceful, and blessed with individual talent in Larsson and Freddie Ljungberg. But this confirmed impressions that this Sweden side are not a good one.

The same cannot be said of Klinsmann's team, despite pre-World Cup dismissals of the hosts' potential. Who was it who said: this time you really can write off the Germans? Probably among many at the start of the tournament, after a not altogether convincing victory against Costa Rica, this observer. Not any more.

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