Former German national team captain Michael Ballack has capped his career with a sold-out testimonial match in Leipzig. Proceeds from the event will be going to benefit the victims of the recent flooding in Europe.
Michael Ballack walked out to a huge applause when his name was announced Wednesday evening in front of more than 44,000 fans at Leipzig's Red Bull Arena. The match was held just over seven months after Ballack, 36, announced his retirement from football, and a little over a year since his final match with Bayer Leverkusen.
Major stars past and present turned up for the event, with a Ballack & Friends side taking on a "Weltauswahl" or World Team. Lining up along with the man of the hour were current players like Miroslav Klose, Sidney Sam, Per Mertesacker and Rene Adler, as well as former greats like Lothar Matthäus, Dietmar Hamman, Torsten Frings and even legendary racing driver Michael Schumacher.
The World Team included many of Ballack's former teammates at the club level, including Dimitar Berbatov, Jens Lehmann, Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho, Philipp Lahm and Andre Schürrle.
Coaching the two sides were Rudi Völler and new Chelsea Manager Jose Mourinho, who has reportedly already made a 20 million euro ($26 million) transfer swoop for the much-coveted Schürrle.
Wednesday's match was not just to honor Ballack, however. Proceeds from the event are being donated to the victims of heavy flooding that has devastated east and south Germany, along with several countries across central Europe, and claimed more than a dozen lives.
Ballack capped the evening with a hat trick of sorts. He scored his first two during the first half wearing the red kit of the Ballack & Friends side and his third came in the second half while suited up for the World Team.
The match, which was much more about fun than discipline, finished with a predictably high score of 4-3 to the World Team. Drogba also contributed two goals on the evening, with Andreas "Zecke" Neuendorf and Schürrle each nabbing one of their own
Ballack ended his footballing career last October after 17 years. As a youth player in the 1980's he joined East German side Chemnitzer FC, then called FC Karl-Marx-Stadt. He went on to play for Kaiserslautern, Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Chelsea before returning to Leverkusen for a final two year stint in 2010. During his club career he won five league titles but famously fell just short of European success, reaching the Champions League final twice.
German fans will remember Ballack most for his time with the national team. He received his first cap in 1999 and went on help his country to the 2002 World Cup final and the Euro 2008 final.
He notably captained Germany when they hosted the 2006 World Cup and was dubbed "our capitano" by then-Head Coach Jürgen Klinsmann.
His international career was unfortunately cut short in 2010, shortly before the World Cup in South Africa. He was ruled out of the tournament after being injured by Kevin Prince-Boateng while playing for Chelsea in the FA Cup Final.
After a fairly successful tournament, Coach Joachim Löw dropped him from the German squad. Ballack publicly criticized Löw's decision and rejected a proposed final Germany match last year. He finished with 98 appearances for his country, two shy of the famed century mark.
Two years later, after a pair of seasons with Leverkusen where he struggled for fitness and playing time, Ballack called it quits on his playing career.
"It was a terrific career for me," said a noticeably emotional Ballack after the match on Wednesday. "I am very, very thankful."
"Football is very special. The fans make it very special," Ballack told supporters in Leipzig. "We are just players, without you there is no voice and without you there is no passion."