It's a crushing last-minute blow for Germany.
Just days away from next month's World Cup 2010 – the quadrennial super-event that every soccer player lives for – team captain Michael Ballack suffered an ankle injury that will keep him out of the tournament.
The German soccer federation announced the news Monday, following the injury during Saturday's FA Cup final between Mr. Ballack's English club team, Chelsea, and Portsmouth. Chelsea won the match 1-0.
Germany's young team will sorely miss the leadership of the fiery veteran midfielder.
How big of a deal is it for Germany's bid to beat the world's best teams?
"Michael is our captain and absolute leading player,” said national team coach Joachim Löw, who called the tackle that led to Mr. Ballack's key injury "brutal."
Indeed, the tackle administered by Portsmouth attacking midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng – a German national who has chosen to play for Ghana, the country of his father – was vicious. (See for yourself here.)
Ghana vs. Germany
And that's where the controversy comes in.
Ghana is in Germany's group of four in the first stage of the World Cup, and speculation that Boateng aimed to take Ballack out of the Cup is running rampant.
Now, his tackle is setting the stage for a real grudge match during the Cup.
"World Cup war breaks out between Ghana and Germany," screamed GhanaSoccerNet.com.
Ballack himself suggested that Boateng meant to do what he did.
“I have seen [the tackle] on TV and to say it was not on purpose means you have to be a friend of Boateng," said Ballack.
Brother vs. Brother?
Ironically, Boateng's younger brother, Jerome Boateng, is on Germany's national team, and the two could play each other on the world's biggest stage.
You have to wonder if the brothers have talked since the incident, and if so, what was said.
Depending on how things go in June, the elder Boateng may remain persona non grata in Germany for some time.