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Germany Seek Good Start to Soccer Year Against Norway

Ahead of Germany's international friendly against Norway, team captain Michael Ballack has insisted he has no regrets about criticizing national coach Joachim Loew last autumn.

Germany soccer players exercises during a training session of the national soccer team

The Germany squad is gearing up to walk over Norway

Ballack had accused Loew of not showing enough respect and loyalty to senior national team members such as Torsten Frings, who was omitted from Germany's starting line-up for a collection of international friendly matches last year.

National team management soon called on Ballack to explain himself over the comments, leading to the Chelsea midfielder issuing a formal apology. But at a press conference on Monday, Feb. 9, Ballack said such criticism was part of the game.

"I do not regret what I said … it was constructive criticism," he said. "The team is sturdy, everyone knows each other, we all want to continue to pull in the same direction, to win matches and to be criticized when we don't achieve that.

"I have no problem with those (in the squad) who criticize me," he added.

Ballack, who will receive his 90th national team cap against Norway, has fully recovered from injury problems to resume his place in midfield.

Loew: Past problems are solved

Germany will be near to full strength when they take on Norway on Wednesday in Dusseldorf aiming for a confidence-boosting performance ahead of forthcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Germany coach Joachim Loew

Joachim Loew, left, says Ballack's comments are water under the bridge

A win will do much to ease some jitters after a defeat to England in Berlin last November and much discontent within the Germany camp following the team's second-place finish at the 2008 European Championships.

Werder Bremen midfielder Frings -- dropped for two World Cup qualifiers in October and left out of the squad against England -- is back in the squad but could again find himself on the substitutes' bench for the match against Norway.

Loew has insisted the differences have been sorted out, and it is now time to focus on sealing qualification for the 2010 World Cup.

"We don't want players who are always conforming and don't have their own opinions," he said. "We welcome constructive criticism but it has to be expressed within the team.

"(Frings and Ballack) are very important for us, a team needs some experienced players that reassure by the young players around them," Loew said in an interview with German newspaper Die Welt Am Sonntag.

Full-strength Germany

Norway, a team with its own problems after failing to win a match in 2008, have been chosen by Germany for the friendly because their defensive playing style reflects that of World Cup qualifying opponents Liechtenstein and Wales, who the Mannschaft face on March 28 and April 1, respectively.

"We don't have much time left," Loew said. "It's an important game for us to focus on the tasks which lie ahead and to tune up for the World Cup qualification matches."

Andreas Beck, left, and Mesut Ozil

Andreas Beck, left, and Mesut Ozil could start against Norway

Loew has called up newcomers Mesut Ozil of Werder Bremen in midfield and Hoffenheim defender Andreas Beck.

With Hertha Berlin right-back Arne Friedrich pulling out because of a back injury, Beck may have the better chance of a start, although Celtic's Andreas Hinkel looks the more likely replacement.

Loew has omitted Bayern Munich striker Lukas Podolski, but Bayern teammate Miroslav Klose tuned up for the match with two late goals to give his side a 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund on Sunday.

Norway coach desperate for win

With the Norwegian season breaking from November until mid-March, many of the side will be lacking match practice, although several are on duty in the English, French and Dutch leagues including Blackburn Rovers striker Morten Gamst Pederson and the Fulham pair Brede Hangeland in defence and Erik Nevland in attack.

Coach Egil Olsen, brought back following the resignation of Age Hereide last month, will, however, be without Aston Villa striker John Carew, Roma defender John Arne Riise and Rosenborg striker Steffen Iversen who are injured or just returning from injury.

Olsen, 66, who led Norway to the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, is in charge of the team for three matches starting with the Germany game, and may be asked to stay on if he can revive a side which is bottom of World Cup qualifying Group 9 with two points from three matches.

"Germany are on a useful level for us so to start against them is perfect. They're strong, it's an away match and no-one expects anything of us," he said after his appointment in January.

"That suits us, even though I'll be very disappointed if we're soundly beaten."

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