Bayer Leverkusen kept hold of second spot in the Bundesliga after playing host to closest rivals Hanover. For Germany national captain Michael Ballack, the game marked his first start in months for Leverkusen.
Hanover had an uphill battle after Rolfes scored the second goal
Germany soccer captain Michael Ballack made his first start for Bayer Leverkusen in months on Friday, as the team tightened its grip on second place in the Bundesliga with a 2-0 victory over Hanover.
Hosts Leverkusen oozed confidence in their first-half display with the first opportunity of the match, a powerful effort from striker Arturo Vidal, going just wide of the post. However, the Chilean did manage to make the difference after 21 minutes - volleying in from 16 meters as he connected with a ricocheted layoff from Stefan Kiessling.
Hanover struggled to make progress, while Leverkusen continued to threaten, finally doubling their tally just three minutes from half time. In-form Gonzalo Castro passed a through ball to midfielder Simon Rolfes, who finished confidently by rounding goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler.
Ballack, sidelined since September, played as a substitute last week
There were limited opportunities for the visitors - a notable effort from Didier Ya Konan going over the bar - but by and large Leverkusen remained in control and the game finished 2-0.
Room for improvement
Ballack, sidelined by a leg injury in September, said he was pleased with the win, which means that Leverkusen remain in second place on 39 points, but claimed there was room for improvement.
The result had denied Hanover, now on 34, the opportunity to go above Leverkusen.
"The win tonight was difficult to go out and search for, but it was deserved," said Ballack. "We need to improve if we are going to finish second, that's our objective."
"I am happy to have played from the start and that I have kept the trust of my coach," added Ballack, who still faces a battle to convince Germany coach Joachim Löw to give him back his place in the national side.
Runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund, who visit Wolfsburg in Saturday's football action, currently have 47 points with one more game to play than Hanover.
Author: Richard Connor (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nicole Goebel