Ballack eyes successes
After the longest injury break in his 12-year career, Germany captain Michael Ballack wants to compensate by lifting the Champions League trophy with Chelsea and the Euro 2008 title with his country.
In an interview set to appear here on Monday in German magazine Kicker, the 31-year-old says he wants to make amends for his eight-month break, after an ankle injury, with plenty of silverware.
"I hope 2008 will be a year of titles for me: the Champions League and the European Championships," the midfielder told Kicker.
Chelsea face Greek champions Olympiakos in the Champions League's first knock-out round tie in February while Germany have drawn Poland, Croatia and hosts Austria for next June's Euro 2008 tournament.
And having damaged ankle ligaments on April 22 in the Premier League game against Newcastle, Ballack made his first appearance of the season in Chelsea's 2-0 League Cup win over Liverpool last week.
His long injury lay-off came after two ankle operations and a frustrating period of rehabilitation, but he says there is more work ahead of him to recover his full fitness.
"At the moment, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but there is still a considerable amount of work needed to be done.
"You lose so much after a long lay-off, not just the footballing skills, but also the physical condition: strength, speed and you are not so dynamic.
"I just need lots of match practice now."
After coming off the bench against Liverpool in midweek, Ballack's presence on the pitch was very pleasing for Germany head coach Joachim Loew who will also welcome back injury-victims Torsten Frings and Bernd Schneider.
"We are hoping our important players like Ballack, Frings and Schneider will get plenty of practise in 2008 and hopefully there are no more injuries," said Loew.
Under new coach Avram Grant, Chelsea have changed to a 4-3-3 system and Ballack is confident the Blues will do well in the Premier League and Premiership.
"I am sure that we will have some success," said Ballack.
Having been consistent in their Euro 2008 qualification campaign, Germany have developed into a strong side and Ballack says the national team should approach next June's tournament with confidence.
"At the 2002 World Cup (where Germany came second) and last year's event (where the Mannschaft finished third), we played within ourselves, next year we should attack Euro 2008 with real confidence.
"Our objective must be to reach the final."
And a lot of the team's development is down to Jurgen Klinsmann's successor Loew, according to Ballack.
"No question, he has taken the side forward and given the side a style of his own," said Ballack.
And Ballack says he has been impressed with Bayern Munich's young stars Lukas Podolski, voted the best young player at last year's World Cup, and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
"They are playing for a team where there is a fine line between good players, international ones and world-class players," said former Bayern star Ballack.
"They will have set-backs, but they will have to learn to cope with that and if they succeed they will become top-class players."