Ballack left out of Germany squad
Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Michael Ballack has been left out of the Germany squad for the Euro 2012 qualifiers against Belgium and Azerbaijan.
Bllackhad expected to be recalled to the national team after missing the World Cup because of an ankle injury, and even anticipated regaining the captain's armband from Bayern Munich full-back Philipp Lahm.
However, national coach Joachim Low has decided he needs to play his way back into form with Leverkusen first, having returned to the club on a free transfer from Chelsea in the summer.
Low said: "I had a good and respectful discussion (with Ballack). He is on the right track three months after his serious injury and everybody is happy with his recovery. It will now be important for him to rediscover his best form with Leverkusen over the coming weeks."
Ballack was bullish about his own prospects of a national team return earlier this month and was confident he would be reinstated as skipper.
He told Soccernet: "For me, the matter is clear - I am the captain of Germany and intend to take on the role again when I am fit. I can't wait to lead Germany into the Euro 2012 qualifiers and make a success of it."
While Ballack's absence from this squad makes Lahm the obvious choice to lead the team, Low has a bigger dilemma in goal with the return to fitness of Leverkusen goalkeeper Rene Adler.
Adler was made number one choice for the World Cup by Low before an injury suffered towards the end of the last Bundesliga season prevented him from travelling to South Africa. Now he returns to put the pressure on Schalke's Manuel Neuer, who kept goal at the World Cup.
"It was obvious for us that Rene Adler would return," Low said. "After his operation, he has proven in the matches he has played so far that he is in good form."
Low has named 17 members of his World Cup squad for the qualifying games, with Adler, Heiko Westermann, Christian Trasch and Sascha Riether making up the 21-man selection.
The squad is Low's second since the World Cup, but his first serious selection after naming a largely experimental side for the 2-2 draw with Denmark earlier this month.
"The next stage with our team begins now," he said. "While all the praise we got at the World Cup was beautiful, the next step in an interesting challenge begins for all of us now.
"Like after Euro 2008, I will continue to place a lot of emphasis on the principle of picking the best-performing players so that it is possible to improve our team even further."
Out of the squad which travelled to South Africa, Low is unable to call upon the injured group of Jerome Boateng, Piotr Trochowski, Dennis Aogo and Arne Friedrich while Serdar Tasci has been overlooked "due to a recent lack of match practice," according to a statement from the German football association.
Germany begin their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign against Belgium in Brussels next Friday before hosting Azerbaijan in Cologne on the following Tuesday.
Germany squad: R Adler (Bayer Leverkusen), M Neuer (Schalke), T Wiese (Werder Bremen); H Badstuber, P Lahm (both Bayern Munich), M Jansen, H Westermann (both Hamburg), P Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), S Riether (Wolfsburg); S Khedira, M Ozil (both Real Madrid), T Kroos, T Muller, B Schweinsteiger (all Bayern Munich), M Marin (Werder Bremen), C Trasch (Stuttgart); Cacau (Stuttgart), L Podolski (Cologne), M Gomez, M Klose (both Bayern Munich), S Kiessling (Bayer Leverkusen).