Schwein set to take on injured Ballack's role

September 4, 2008

BERLIN, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Germany need Bastian Schweinsteiger to show he can fill the boots of captain Michael Ballack when the Euro 2008 runners-up begin their World Cup qualifying campaign away to Liechtenstein on Saturday.

Ballack and midfield partner Torsten Frings will both miss the game in Vaduz and Germany's second Group Four qualifier against Finland in Helsinki on Sept. 10 because of injury.

Victory over Liechtenstein should be no problem, of course - even if coach Joachim Loew sounded the usual note of caution this week - but Finland will be a tougher job and it will be interesting to see if Schweinsteiger can supply the inspiration.

The Bayern Munich midfielder had a rude awakening at Euro 2008, losing his place in the starting line-up before the tournament and then getting himself sent off for a foolish piece of retaliation in the team's loss to Croatia in the group phase.

He returned a chastened man and atoned for his mistake in some style as he led Germany to victory over Portugal in the quarter-finals with a virtuoso display.

At the age of 24, Schweinsteiger has 57 caps already and in the absence of Ballack and Frings he is Germany's most experienced midfielder.

'I want to develop further as a player and really concentrate on my football,' Schweinsteiger, known for his loud taste in haircuts, told reporters this week.

'I've made a few changes recently and for the last few months I've felt very good.'

German team manager Oliver Bierhoff has noted a growing maturity in the player, too.

'I was impressed by the way he dealt with tough situations at Euro 2008,' Bierhoff was quoted as saying by German media this week. 'He has a lot of experience in terms of matches and we're hopeful he has now become one of the team's senior players.'

Loew will also be without Per Mertesacker through injury but his regular centre-back partner Christoph Metzelder should be fit enough to play, probably alongside Serdar Tasci.