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Sports

Ballack Impresses as Germany Beat Serbia

Substitute Oliver Neuville and Captain Michael Ballack gave Germany a 2-1 victory over Serbia Saturday in their last test match before the European Championships 2008 next week.

Oliver Neuville and Michael Ballack

Neuville, left, and Ballack celebrate their late goals which led Germany to victory

Saturday's 2-1 comeback win against Serbia in the western German city of Gelsenkirchen boosted Germany's team morale one week ahead of the European Championships.

Though there were still some deficits on the defense end, there was little doubt that Michael Ballack was the star of the day.

The 31-year-old led the team and scored the 82nd-minute winner after substitute Oliver Neuville had earlier cancelled out Serbia's

first-half lead from Bosko Jankovic.

"Ballack electrifies everyone...He can lead us to the title," the Bild am Sonntag Sunday paper said in praise of the Chelsea midfielder.

Serbia takes lead

Serbia, who failed to qualify for Euro 2008, proved an awkward opponent in Gelsenkirchen for Germany eight days before Joachim Loew's side kick off their Euro 2008 campaign against Poland.

The home crowd were silenced in the 19th minute when an exchange of passes in midfield allowed Sasa Ilic to split the back four with a pass to Bosko Jankovic who raced clear to slide the ball between the legs of Jens Lehmann in goal.

Oliver Neuville

Neuville scores in the 74th minute, bringing much-needed relief to the German side

It was the first chance of the game for Serbia, with Ilic's pass exposing exactly the area of defense which had been a concern in Tuesday's 2-2 draw with Belarus.

Neuville breaks deadlock

Loew made four changes from the team which drew 2-2 with Belarus on Tuesday, bringing in Marcell Jansen at left-back, Clemens Fritz on the right of midfield and Kevin Kuranyi and Mario Gomez in attack.

Christoph Metzelder, who had played only nine games for Real Madrid this season because of a foot injury, was given another chance to prove his fitness.

Germany began strongly and Serbia central defender Nemanja Vidic had to clear off the line from a Ballack header in the 14th minute.

Gomez was unfortunate not to equalize 10 minutes before the break when he failed to connect properly in front of goal from a Jansen cross. Germany also had a strong penalty appeal turned down after Torsten Frings appeared to be tripped in the box by Ilic.

Podolski came on at half-time for Philipp Lahm, moving to the left of midfield as Germany pressed for an equalizer, but it was Serbia who came closest when Jankovic crashed the ball against the bar from close range in the 54th minute.

Arne Friedrich replaced Per Mertesacker in central defence at half-time, and further substitutions followed, with Simon Rolfes coming on for Torsten Frings, Neuville replacing Kuranyi in the 70th minute, and Bastian Schweinsteiger later making way for Odonkor.

It was Neuville who finally broke the deadlock when he came off the bench in the 70th minute to score from close range four minutes later.

Ballack in top form

After Jansen was fouled on the edge of the area by Branislav Ivanovic, who earned a yellow card, the free-kick was touched to Rolfes who teed up Ballack to strike a right-foot shot into the corner of the net.

Germany coach Joachim Loew heaped praise on his key player.

"Michael Ballack permanently led the team on the attack. He is in great shape. He scored a deciding goal. He had a strong presence on

the field," said Loew.

Ballack, who is still in search of his firsdt major trophy, could make the difference for the three-time champion Germany at the June 7-29 tournament in Austria and Switzerland.

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