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Loew surprised by Chelsea omission of Ballack

BERLIN, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Germany coach Joachim Loew said on Tuesday he was surprised Chelsea had omitted Michael Ballack from their Champions League group stage squad because he expected his injured captain to be back in October.

'It's quite a surprise that he won't be playing in the Champions League this year,' Loew said in Cologne.

'We have to talk with each other on the telephone first because I don't know any more details yet myself,' he added.

On Monday, Loew said he expected Ballack to return from an ankle injury, which required surgery, for next month's Euro 2008 qualifiers against Ireland and Czech Republic.

'The injury has healed and it's getting better by the day,' Loew said late on Monday.

Ballack has not played for Chelsea since April because of the injury and on Monday was left out of their squad for the Champions League group stages. The 30-year-old will not be fit in time for the start of the competition in two weeks.

Chelsea have been drawn with Spain's Valencia, Schalke 04 of Germany and Norwegians Rosenborg Trondheim in Group B.

However, if Ballack does recover fitness over the next four months he would be eligible for the latter stages of the competition should Chelsea qualify.

Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff said he was alarmed and had learned of Chelsea's move in the newspapers on Tuesday.

'Obviously we're concerned,' he said. 'Michael is the only one who can tell us what happened. It's stunning when a player of his calibre is not included in the Champions League squad.

'We're still hopeful that Michael will be with us in October for the Euro qualifier against Ireland. But the most important thing is that he is 100 percent fit for the Euros next summer.'

Bierhoff said Ballack had told him the last time they met on Aug. 22 in London that his ankle was improving and he would soon be able to return to training with his team.