German captain Michael Ballack has officially been ruled out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa due to a right ankle injury he suffered in Saturday's FA Cup Final win over Portsmouth.
Injury scans were supposed to take place on Sunday, but Ballack's ankle was too swollen to proceed with the examination. A dark harbinger for the news German fans were about to receive.
An official MRI taken on Monday revealed ligament damage in Ballack's right ankle, ruling him out for two months. Doctors estimated the earliest he could resume training is eight weeks.
“A tear of the medial collateral ligament of the right ankle was found,” said a statement by the Deutsche Fussball Bund. “The right ankle is immobilized in a plaster, and he will have to wear a special shoe for two weeks."
The 2010 World Cup begins on June 11th, roughly three weeks away.
Ballack tried his best to remain even keel about the magnitude of the situation when speaking to the media, “It’s very disappointing, but I have to accept it. It’s football and you have to live with it. I am angry, clearly.” the skipper said in an interview.
At 33-years-old, Ballack has probably played his last game for Die Mannschaft. It is an unfortunate end to an illustrious career for a player of the highest skill and class.
Ballack's absence viewed as an isolated incident is a serious matter in its own right, but its affect on other storylines that are unfolding for Germany right now have colossal implications for a now befuddled German camp.
Manager Joachim Low has let a lot of things slide because he knew he had Ballack, his fearless leader and captain that seemed to make everything alright.
Low dispatched perennial playmaker and national team fixture Torsten Frings earlier this year. The tested midfielder's dropping was contested by supporters, but fans were kept at bay because they still had Ballack to rely on.
The poor form of Lazio's Thomas Hitzlsperger, another midfielder with international experience, was enough to get him left off the provisional roster as well.
Low's brazen roster maneuvers used Ballack as a foundation. As long as Ballack remained at the center of the midfield, experience could be turned away and youth could flood the starting lineup.
The immense amount of young players at all positions that Low brought onto the team this year with the intentions of having them get their feet wet on an international stage, will now be ask to fulfill a monumental role with Ballack out.
They say team depth is always a good thing, until you have to rely on it.
The key question for midfield youngsters Mesut Ozil, Marko Marin, Toni Kroos and Piotr Trochowski transformed from "Do you think you can perform?" into "How will you perform?"
There is no doubt, they will be called upon to do so in South Africa.
The hour is upon Germany for the young players that Low has backed to come of age, and it's happening much sooner than Low or any other German supporter anticipated.
German fans fearful of the youth movement were always comforted by the fact that Michael Ballack was still the face of the club. Spectators doubted if those who respected the old guard could rally behind 20-something year olds like Ozil or Kroos.
They now have no choice.