Stars on the outside looking in at World Cup

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:29 AM ET

There will be no toothy Ronaldinho smiles, no abrasive Michael Ballack swagger, no bending David Beckham banana crosses.

None of these trademark features of the game will be on display on the various sun-baked pitches of South Africa when the soccer world congregates there in three weeks.

Indeed, the mushrooming buildup to the 2010 World Cup seems to be as much about who won’t be playing as it is about who will be.

As you’ve heard by now, Ballack added his name to the ballooning list of significant names who won’t be participating in South Africa 2010. The German captain was ruled out Monday with ligament damage in his right ankle from a vicious tackle by Portsmouth midfielder Kevin-Prince Boeteng during a 1-0 victory by Ballack’s Chelsea side in the FA Cup Saturday.

By scratching Ballack from Germany’s roster, another high-profile star of past World Cups finds himself on the outside looking in.

Unlike Ballack, Ronaldinho’s absence comes because of a coach’s decision, not due to injury.

In the process, it underscores just how ridiculous the depth of skill is for Brazilian coach Dunga.

How many nations, after all, can leave off a talent like Ronaldinho, the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2004 and ’05? While his play has eroded over the years, he underwent a resurgence at age 30 with AC Milan this season and would have been a viable candidate.

Instead, he was omitted from Dunga’s preliminary roster last week, as was fellow Brazilian Adriano.

In explaining his decisions, Dunga “begged” Brazilian fans to support the team. Of course, anything less than a victory in the final will be considered a failure by Brazilian backers.

Expectations are just as high for Argentina, whose brash coach, the legendary Diego Maradona, raised some eyebrows by leaving the Inter Milan pair of Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso off his preliminary list. Just more fodder for criticism around Maradona, who has had no shortage of it since taken over as national team coach.

Long-time French team staple Patrick Viera’s hot-and-cold play was not enough to impress the national team coaching staff. Even his improved performance since returning to Manchester City from Inter Milan in January was not enough for his inclusion.

And Beckham? When he ruptured a tendon March 14, his World Cup dream ended, although some critics insisted he shouldn’t be on the English squad in the first place.

GRUDGE MATCH

Circle the June 23rd Germany-Ghana tilt on the World Cup calendar as one of the most fiercely-contested grudge matches of the tournament.

With Boeteng playing the role of villain.

Boeteng, the man who took Ballack out of the World Cup, actually started his pro career at Herta Berlin and played for Germany’s Under-21 squad before opting to play for Ghana’s national team this year. While he qualifies for Ghana through his father, Prince, his half-brother Jerome still plays for Germany.

Talk about a family feud.

Boeteng has apologized to Ballack three times but that hasn’t stopped Ballack’s agent, Michael Becker, from considering legal action against the Portsmouth player.

While Becker considers Boeteng’s actions to be pre-meditated, launching a law suit would be going too far.

STRIKER WATCH

No two healing players are being monitored more closely than Fernando Torres and Wayne Rooney in the days leading up to South Africa 2010.

The two banged-up strikers rank among the top impact players in the tournament, health-permitting of course.

There’s the rub.

The availability of Torres, for one, for Spain’s June 16 opener against Switzerland remains in doubt. The Liverpool striker, who is rehabbing a knee injury, scored the winning goal in the European championship final two years ago for Spain.

Rooney has been hobbled by foot and groin injuries the past 10 weeks but seems on pace for England’s opener against the U.S. June 12.

In the words of England midfielder Steven Gerrard: “I think it is impossible to have a good World Cup without Wayne.”

Agreed.


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