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Loew's delight as Ballack returns to Germany squad

The 31-year-old last played for Germany in their Euro 2008 qualifier, but an ankle injury in Chelsea's Premier League clash with Newcastle kept him out.

sports Updated: Jan 31, 2008 21:09 IST

Germany head coach Joachim Loew has expressed his delight at having Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack back in the national squad for Wednesday night's friendly against Austria in Vienna.

The 31-year-old last played for Germany in their Euro 2008 qualifier against the Czech Republic in Prague in March 2007, but an ankle injury in Chelsea's Premier League clash with Newcastle last April kept him out until December.

"We are very pleased that Michael is fully fit and returns after so long away from the national team," said Loew after his captain's return from injury after a 10-month absence.

"As captain and a leader, he plays a very important role in our European Championship planning."

Ballack is set to win his 78th cap as Loew named an almost full-strength side with only Werder Bremen midfielder Torsten Frings and Real Madrid defender Christoph Metzelder missing.

Bayern Munich's striker Lukas Podolski is amongst the midfielders, despite suffering a slipped disc earlier this month, as Loew looks to continue the experiment of playing the 22-year-old as an attacking midfielder.

Schalke pair, midfielder Jermaine Jones and defender Heiko Westermann, are the only uncapped players in the 20-man squad.

Jones has a second chance to make his debut having missed out in November last year after picking up an injury and, since his move from Eintracht Frankfurt last summer, the 26-year-old has strengthened his game.

"We have been watching Jermaine Jones for a long time in great detail and had chosen him for the games against Wales and Cyprus last autumn, but he dropped out because of injury," said Loew.

"We hope he stays fit this time as, after the loss of Torsten Frings, he is an alternative to the central position in the defensive midfield."

The call up of Westermann is a complete surprise and his selection comes at the expense of Metzelder's foot injury.

"Heiko is a versatile defender player, who can play on the left or right and can cover the defence," said Loew.

"Naturally, he has benefited because others have dropped out, but it is a good chance for him to get to know the national team set up."

Loew has named Arsenal's Jens Lehmann and Valencia's Timo Hildebrand as his goalkeepers, despite neither man being their club's first-choice goalkeeper.

And there are four strikers with Germany's footballer of 2007 Mario Gomez, who scored a hat-trick for VfB Stuttgart in midweek, joining first-choice pairing Bayern Munich's Miroslav Klose and Schalke's Kevin Kuranyi.

Second division Borussia Moenchengladbach striker Oliver Neuville is also named.

The game is part of Germany's warm-up internationals against Switzerland on March 26 and Belarus on May 27 before June's Euro 2008 tournament.

Germany squad

Goalkeepers: Timo Hildebrand (Valencia/ESP), Jens Lehmann (Arsenal/ENG)

Defenders: Gonzalo Castro (Bayer Leverkusen), Manuel Friedrich (Bayer Leverkusen), Roberto Hilbert (VfB Stuttgart), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Per Mertsacker (Werder Bremen), Heinko Westermann (Schalke 04)

Midfielders: Michael Ballack (Chelsea/ENG), Thomas Hitzlsperger (VfB Stuttgart), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Lukas Podolski (Bayern Munich), Simon Rolfes (Bayer Leverkusen), Bernd Schneider (Bayer Leverkusen), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Piotr Trochowski (Hamburg)

Forwards: Mario Gomez (VfB Stuttgart), Miroslav Klose (Bayern Munich), Kevin Kuranyi (Schalke 04), Oliver Neuville (Borussia Moechengladbach)