Ballack’s Plight Calls Attention to Soccer’s Brutal Site

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Less than a month before the 2010 FIFA World Cup kicks off in South Africa, the injury of German captain Michael Ballack has cast a dark cloud over the sport both in Germany and beyond. In the lead-up to the biggest tournament in the world, many are reemphasizing the need for sportsmanship and clean play as the preparation and competitive atmosphere heat up in the coming weeks.

The injury, which analysts fear could put an end not only to Ballack’s World Cup hopes but possibly to his international career, came when he was tacked by a player in the English F.A. Cup final. Starting for Chelsea, he was tacked by Portsmouth’s Kevin-Prince Boateng in what Ballack has called a “clearly intentional” move. Video replays of the tackle seem to support this view.

Ballack was not innocent in the situation, as the same replays clearly show that he was provoking his opponent moments early with a slyly placed kick and a hand to the cheekbone.

It’s impossible to say what was going through Boateng’s mind when he made the tackle from behind, but his Portsmouth teammates indicate that he was distraught for the rest of the game and that he was in tears in the locker room afterward

Naturally, in these weeks of intense World Cup hype, these events have inspired much discussion about how dirty tackles and brutal gameplay should be treated. If Boateng’s tackle was intentional, it’s clear that his yellow card was not nearly enough in the way of punishment.

And if the injury was not intentional, then it’s clear that something is wrong with Boateng’s approach to the game. This would not be a huge issue if it were an isolated case, but even the most casual soccer fans are well aware that these types of tackles are widespread across all levels of the game. Players get heated up in the midst of the game, and they employ dirty tricks designed to escape the eye of the referee.

There are no easy answers to these questions, and in the meantime the German team is reeling. Boateng was a strong catalyst in Germany’s 2002 and 2006 World Cup performances, and given his advancing age, he’s likely never to return to the national team. This has coaches and managers looking for other players to fill his shoes, but Germany’s chances ultimately could be seriously harmed by one split-second decision on the field of play.

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