Germany fret over Ballack ahead of Cup qualifiers

Coach Fabio Capello must rejig his defence as England head to Belarus for Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier, with John Terry and Ashley Cole both out of action, while Germany have doubts over Michael Ballack in their fixture against Wales.

A second away win to follow last month’s mauling of Croatia in their own backyard would give England a maximum 12 points from four games and maintain clear blue water between them and their Group Six rivals.

But with Ukraine only two points adrift, England will not be counting any chickens, not least given the enforced changes and a Wembley 5-1 win over Kazakhstan last weekend, which showed up a raft of deficiencies.

Capello is set to keep faith with Matthew Upson in the absence of back victim Terry, and the West Ham man insists he can overcome the nerves he occasionally betrayed on Saturday against the Kazakhs.

”It’s disappointing to lose two very experienced players in John Terry and Ashley Cole for the game in Belarus,” Capello admitted.

Upson, who has ten caps to date, insists he can handle the pressure against a side good enough to beat The Netherlands last year.

”You get injuries and loss of form. It doesn’t matter what someone else is doing, it is about how I am playing and I have to make sure I am ready.”

”I gave 100% on Saturday. I’ve been learning and focusing on what we want and hopefully I can step in.

”I think we are getting better. The more time we spend together the better it will get. We are on the right track.”

On the plus side for England is the likely absence of Belarus playmaker Alexander Hleb, who has been battling an ankle injury, which has hampered his adaptation to life with Barcelona following his move from Arsenal.

Hleb is in coach Bernd Stange’s squad for the match at the Dinamo Stadium in Minsk.

Belarus have so far beaten tiny Andorra but lost unluckily to Ukraine after a last-gasp Andriy Shevchenko penalty in stoppage time.

Wednesday’s other action in Group Six sees Croatia, still shell-shocked after their 4-1 loss to England and five points off the pace, host Andorra.

Just as England expect to take command of their group with a midweek win, so will Germany as they prepare to see off Wales in Group Four.

Germany coach Joachim Loew may have to make do without skipper Michael Ballack after he damaged a calf muscle in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Russia in which the Chelsea man scored the second goal to consolidate the three-time world champions’ grip on Group Four.

Ballack sat out training in Düsseldorf on Monday as a precautionary measure.

Loew, having seen the Russians — who on Wednesday host Finland — come close to bagging a point on Saturday, insists his men must step up to the mark with or without Ballack.

”We watched the game against Russia again on Monday to make sure we don’t sit back again in the second half. We want three more points; it wouldn’t be good if we take three points from Russia, but then lose to Wales,” Loew stressed, adding he expected the Welsh to be cagey and defensive.

Germany lead Group Four on seven points with two wins and a draw, while Wales are second on six points after two wins and a defeat.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, world champions Italy, buoyed after taking a point in Bulgaria at the weekend, should see off Montenegro to increase their domination of Group Eight.

In the same group, the Republic of Ireland must try to pare down a three-point gap with a home win over Cyprus, who shocked them in a Euro 2008 qualifier two years ago, albeit on home turf.

European champions Spain will look for a fourth straight win in Group Five away to fellow unbeaten side Belgium, while in Group Two, the match between Greece and Switzerland sees wily German veteran coaches Otto Rehhagel and Ottmar Hitzfeld — 27 trophies in Germany between them — go toe to toe.

Whereas the Greeks top the table with three wins in as many games, the Swiss are still recovering from a home loss to Luxembourg.

In Group One, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal require three points at home to Albania to lift spirits after a shock early loss to frontrunners Denmark, as second-placed Sweden have a night off.

France, who appear set to keep faith for now with coach Raymond Domenech despite their uncertain start in Group Seven, are also without a qualifier this week and were on Tuesday filling the gap with a friendly against Tunisia. — Sapa-AFP

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