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Ballack desperate to win Champions League

Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Stoppage Time Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Michael Ballack has been ever-so-close to the Champions League title on a few occasions.

The German international captain is the only player to help four teams to the quarterfinals of the world's most prestigious club tournament.

Kaiserslautern? Yes.

Bayer Leverkusen? Check.

Bayern Munich? Uh-huh.

Chelsea? Well, you get the point.

That marks all four stops in Ballack's club career (not counting a brief stint with Chemnitzer FC in Germany's second and third divisions, where he began his career as a teenager in 1995).

For the last 10 seasons, Ballack has played in the Champions League.

The only problem? He's never played for a Champions League winner.

Kaiserslautern was eliminated in the quarterfinals in 1999. Leverkusen lost in the 2002 final. Bayern, which won in 2001 before Ballack arrived, advanced to the quarters three times - including the semifinals once.

Chelsea reached the semifinals last season in Ballack's first year in England.

Now six years after coming as close as he ever has to lifting the title - he's back in the final with Chelsea. The match is Wednesday against English rival Manchester United in Moscow.

Michael Ballack has never played for a Champions League winner.
And Ballack, just 31 but fighting for his career because of an ankle injury, knows he might not get another chance.

"I don't want to look back on my career at some point and say, 'What a pity, I came close a few times, but it was never good enough,'" Ballack said.

"I just desperately want to win this trophy."

Arguably, this is his best chance. Ballack has admitted before that Leverkusen played better than Real Madrid in 2002 but came up short in a 2-1 loss.

Chelsea may be the most talented club Ballack has ever played for - and he's a major reason why. The London club, which finished two points behind Manchester United in the Premier League, features numerous international captains.

Without Ballack, who was still recovering from ankle surgery, Chelsea was good and advanced out of the group stage of the Champions League by going 3-0-3.

Ballack returned from eight months on the sideline with an assist in Chelsea's 2-0 victory over Liverpool in the Carling Cup on Dec. 19.

Since, he's just continued to get better. He's even started to shed an unfair label of "choking" in big games, especially in the Champions League.

Ballack scored the winning goal in the second leg of the quarterfinals against Fenerbahce, a win that secured Chelsea's spot in the semifinals.

In the biggest game in the Premier League all season, Ballack had two goals in a 2-1 win over Manchester United on April 26.

With Ballack, a three-time German Footballer of the Year, Chelsea has become a great team. The club is 3-1-2 in the knockout stage of the tournament against much tougher opponents than in the group stage.

Despite all of its success and its recent win over Manchester United, Ballack would not call Chelsea the favorite in the Champions League final.

"I don't think you could say that. Both teams have the same chance. Man United are very strong, but we're very strong as well," he told Zoo Magazine.

But the final is all that's on Ballack's mind.

"At some stage it fills you up entirely, your whole way of thinking the closer you get to the day of the match," Ballack said. "And that's as it should be. You have to be totally focused and greedy about winning the cup."

In addition to the Champions League disappointment, Ballack led Germany to the final of the World Cup in 2002, only to be suspended for the final, a 2-0 loss to Brazil.

So obviously, Ballack's not satisfied just to be in another final.

"Yeah [it was crucial to get to Moscow] but you need to win this tournament. In 20 years, when people look over their shoulder at the past, they'll always remember who won the trophies - not who lost in the final," Ballack told Zoo Magazine. "I've played in the competition for 10 years and never won it.

"I want to win - with all my might."

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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