Ballack to start Euro final for Germany
Spanish hoping to end 44 years of futility
German captain Michael Ballack will start in Sunday's Euro 2008 final against Spain despite nursing a calf injury.
Ballack complained of pain in his right calf Friday and missed Germany's final two practices before Sunday's game in Vienna, but the 31-year-old Chelsea midfielder will play against Spain.
Sunday's contest is a battle between one of soccer's true super powers (Germany) and the game's ultimate under-achiever (Spain).
Spain's lone claim to fame is winning a single European championship, on home soil in 1964. Since then, the Spanish have been plagued by 44 years of futility, while the Germans have won two World Cups (they also won it in 1954) and three European championships.
But Spain can finally shed the under-achiever tag that has haunted them for more than four decades with a win over mighty Germany.
As for the Germans, they can prolong Spain's suffering and add a record fourth European title to their overflowing trophy cabinet.
Spain's record of underachievement is legendary: they have qualified for 12 World Cups but have managed to advance beyond the quarter-finals only once, in 1950.
Their appearance in Sunday's final marks the first time in 24 years they have even advanced beyond the quarter-finals of the European Championship.
It's a puzzling track record for a country that boasts one of the best professional leagues in the world and the greatest club in all of soccer, Real Madrid, which has won the Champions League/European Cup nine times.
And even though Spain has been the class of Euro 2008 thus far with a perfect 5-0 record and having outscored their opponents 11-3, they are still dealing with the pressure of proving they can win the big one and delivering a championship to their long-suffering fans.
"It's very difficult to reach a final and that gives you an added responsibility; it makes you more nervous," Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas said. "Speaking for myself, I'm looking forward to it very much, but I feel responsible for my teammates and 44 million people."
Germany has some demons of its own to exorcise, having lost in the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup on home soil.
"After the World Cup we set ourselves new objectives and the goal was to win this title. We have been working at this for two years," said Germany coach Joachim Low.
"Having set ourselves such a difficult goal, if we can win tomorrow (Sunday) the pleasure would be enormous. It would be a big satisfaction for us."
Spanish forward David Villa, the tournament's top scorer, is also doubtful after straining a hamstring muscle in Spain's 3-0 victory over Russia in the semifinals.
Villa left the game in the first half and Spanish coach Luis Aragones replaced the Valencia forward with playmaking midfielder Cesc Fabregas, effectively switching from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 formation with forward Fernando Torres playing alone up front.
The change in tactics paid off, as Spain exploded for three second-half goals, two of them set up by Fabregas.
With Villa expected to watch from the sidelines, Spanish coach Luis Aragones hasn't tipped his hand, whether Fabregas will start or if he'll revert to a 4-4-2 formation with Dani Guiza partnering Fernando Torres up front.
But one thing is for sure: Aragones thinks Spain can overcome the absence of Villa.
"We might have less attacking punch, but we will have more control in the midfield," Aragones said. "I haven't decided anything yet though and I might still opt to play two strikers."