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On-pitch row mars German win over Wales

GERMANY'S four-point lead at the top of its World Cup qualifying group means coach Joachim Loew could afford to be sanguine about an on-field altercation between two of his players in Wednesday's win over Wales.

Michael Ballack and Lukas Podolski almost came to blows in the second half of Germany's 2-0 victory in Cardiff, with Podolski apparently objecting to being told what to do by his captain.

He had to be pulled away from Ballack by a teammate, but Loew said he was not too bothered by the apparent show of disharmony.

"I need to talk to these players," Loew said. "Experienced players have a right to turn the volume on, as it were, and explain things of a tactical nature. I see it as a positive thing that Ballack was supplying that.

"You've got to know that if captains give out tactical instructions on the pitch, it is their right and duty to see that they are carried out," he said.

The row on the pitch in Cardiff showed peace had yet to return to the squad since Ballack publicly fell out with Loew after the Euro 2008 final defeat against Spain.

Germany manager Oliver Bierhoff was quick to dismiss the incident, saying the air had been cleared immediately after the match.

"They looked deep into each other's eyes and the matter was dealt with," Bierhoff told reporters yesterday, ruling out any punishment for Podolski.

Ballack said Podolski had disagreed with a tactical decision.

"Lukas still has a lot to learn. If he has a different opinion then we can discuss it off the pitch. But he has to accept the captain's decision on it," Ballack told ARD television.

"And in no way should he get physical," Ballack said of being pushed by the striker following the disagreement.

The victory kept Germany clear of second-place Russia in Group 4 and the three-time World Cup champion can clinch a spot at the 2010 tournament in South Africa if it wins its next three matches.

Whether Podolski is part of the tournament is likely to depend more upon his form and attitude than whether Germany makes it. This is not the first sign of simmering differences with Ballack. Striker Miroslav Klose recently said the Chelsea midfielder had changed, getting closer to players and appearing more open.

Meanwhile, Ballack not only provided his team's on-field coaching but added to his luster by scoring the opening goal with a curling 30-meter shot.


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