Germany captain Michael Ballack must show his leadership qualities and at the same time use restraint when his team meet Austria in a do-or-die match at Euro 2008 on Monday.
Ballack must raise his game as he played below par like many teammates in Germany's 1-2 defeat against Croatia. In addition, he cannot afford another yellow card because that would make him ineligible for a quarter-final with fancied Portugal if Germany progress.
Ballack's absence would considerably weaken Germany against Cristiano Ronaldo and company in the quarters and put him in danger of missing out on a big title again. He still needs to shake up the image of a perennial runner- up. It was cultivated when he lost the 2002 Champions League final with Bayer Leverkusen and was a runner-up finisher with that team in the Bundesliga as well in several years.
Now, at England's Chelsea, he came second in the Premier League and the Champions League just ahead of the Euro tournament - both to Ronaldo's Manchester United.
Ballack came to Euro saying he has gotten over the latest setbacks and was ready to lead Germany, ideally to a fourth continental title. On Sunday, he revealed that the German team had met without coaches Friday to assess the Croatia defeat. Ballack will have played a leading role at that meeting, but he wouldn't give details.
"It was no crisis meeting," Ballack insisted, but nonetheless added that "this meeting has a reason."
"We talked about a few things," he said vaguely, saying that some players may have been a little more outspoken in the absence of coach Joachim Loew and his staff.
Ballack readily admitted that he had also not lived up to the expectations against Croatia and that he could understand the criticism. "It is quite normal that these discussions come when you lose. Everyone has to deal with criticism," said Ballack.
But Ballack strictly ruled out that he had chocked under pressure: "It has nothing to do with being tight."
He also remained optimistic that Germany will advance into the quarter-finals against the co-hosts. "I am absolutely convinced that we will win. We are the favourite. Austria has nothing to lose. But if we play like in the past we should not be afraid," he said.
The playmaker was also upbeat concerning his delicate yellow-card situation. "I will try not to get another yellow card. I am experienced enough not to pick up another yellow card," said Ballack.
After all, Ballack missed the 2002 World Cup final over a yellow-card suspension and will do everything he can not to miss a key match again - if Germany progress.