Michael Ballack: The Nearly Man of German Football
For the second World Cup in a row, Germany have come up short and been knocked out in the semifinals.
The pain of coming so close will be keenly felt by this young squad, but for one man watching on the sidelines the bitter taste of defeat is all too familiar.
For advice on how to get over such a disappointment, many of Germany's youngsters would do well to talk to Michael Ballack, who was forced out of the tournament through injury.
It is the latest in a long line of disappointments he has had to endure throughout his career.
Hardly ever has the term "so near and yet so far" befitted a player so well.
2000: Bundesliga Title Slips from Bayer Leverkusen's Grasp
Heading into the final game of the league season, Ballack and his teammates simply needed to beat Unterhaching to win their first ever domestic title.
Ballack scored an own goal as Leverkusen went down to a 2-0 defeat.
Bayern Munich stole their crown with a 3-1 victory against Werder Bremen.
2002: Treble Horror
Two years later, it got much worse. Again, Leverkusen collapsed in the home straight, but in much more spectacular fashion.
Five points clear in the Bundesliga with three games to go, they lost their last two matches, allowing Borussia Dortmund to finish top. That was part one of the Treble Horror.
Part two was a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League final. The game is remembered for a brilliant volley from Zinedine Zidane.
To top it all off, Leverkusen lost the German Cup final against Schalke 04, 4-2.
2002 World Cup Final: Disgruntled Spectator
Ballack didn't have much time to mope, as weeks later the World Cup in Japan and South Korea got under way. He played a crucial role in his country's progress to the semifinals, scoring the winner in the quarterfinals against the United States.
Ballack's Paul Gascoigne moment came in the 71st minute of the game against South Korea.
The captain picked up a yellow card for a foul on Lee Chun-Soo, which ruled him out of the final against Brazil. To his credit, he battled on and scored the goal which sent Germany into the final.
Shorn of the influence of one of their best players, the Germans lost 2-0, with Ronaldo netting a brace.
2006 World Cup: Italy Spoil the Party
Four years later on home soil, Germany advanced to the semifinals once again, fueled by a wave of support and optimism.
Having beaten Argentina in the quarterfinals, hopes of reaching a second consecutive final were high.
Two quick-fire goals from Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero deep into extra time put Italy through 2-0, and Ballack was again left to ponder what might have been.
Italy went on to win the tournament, beating France 5-3 on penalties in the final.
2008: The Season of Lost Finals
As John Terry stepped up to take his penalty in the driving Moscow rain, Ballack was on the cusp of becoming a Champions League winner for the first time in his career.
We all know what happened next. Terry slipped and missed, and Manchester United won the shootout 6-5.
The season will be remembered by Chelsea fans as the "season of lost finals"—the Blues also lost 2-1 to rivals Tottenham in the Carling Cup final at Wembley.
In the Premier League, Avram Grant's team finished two points behind champions Manchester United.
For Ballack, it was the second such season of his career, following on from the pain of 2002. More was to follow however...
2008 European Championships Final: More Pain—This Time Against Spain
A 1-0 defeat against Spain, courtesy of a first half Fernando Torres strike, rounded off a horrendous 2007/2008 season for Ballack.
For the second time in his career, he lost three finals in the space of one season.
Many would be forgiven for thinking he is cursed.
2010: A Silver Lining
The 2009/10 season turned out to Chelsea's greatest ever, and Ballack's last in a blue shirt.
After four years of coming up short, Ballack finally got his hands on the Premier League trophy.
Managed by Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea secured their fourth league title in style with an 8-0 demolition of Wigan.
Disaster was not too far away for the German though...
A Bittersweet Double
A tackle from Portsmouth's Kevin Prince-Boateng at Wembley forced Ballack to be substituted in the first half of the FA Cup final.
Scans confirmed his worst fears—that he would miss the finals in South Africa—potentially his last chance to play in such a tournament for his country.
Didier Drogba scored the decisive goal, a second half free kick, to complete the Double.
2010 World Cup: Different Tournament, Same Story
So Ballack was forced into the unfamiliar role of spectator for the tournament, which saw the emergence of the next generation of German talent.
The likes of Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller, Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng, and Manuel Neuer all made a name for themselves in South Africa.
Despite a new generation of players, the story was a familiar one for Germany—a semifinal exit.
Confidence was coursing through the team and nation after beating England 4-1 and Argentina 4-0, en-route to a rematch of the 2008 European Championships Final against Spain.
Carles Puyol settled an absorbing encounter with a 73rd-minute header, and Ballack was left powerless as his country again came so close to glory.
This young side's time will come, but at 33 Ballack may have already had his.
Germany will be one of the favourites to win Euro 2012, which will be hosted by Poland and Ukraine.
On the evidence of Germany's run to the semifinals of South Africa 2010, Ballack will face a fight to get back into the team.
Next season he will play for his old club Bayer Leverkusen, having signed a two-year contract last month.
"With my transfer to Bayer Leverkusen a circle is complete. I had a beautiful and successful time here, on which I like to look back on a lot," he said upon completing the move.