Germany coach Joachim Low said today he expects veteran Michael Ballack to return to the national side in 2011 and win at least the two more caps he needs to pass the milestone of 100 appearances.
"I hope he reaches the 100-cap mark, because Michael has been an ambassador for this country for a long time," said Low in today's edition of Bild newspaper.
"He doesn't deserve to end his career like this. Michael will fight for his chance, he is not someone who gives up easily."
Ballack has been injured effectively for the last six months after he damaged ankle ligaments in May, which kept him out of the FIFA World Cup™, but then fractured his leg in September, just three games into his comeback.
In his absence, Real Madrid's Sami Khedira has forged an effective partnership with Bastian Schweinsteiger in Germany's midfield as the Germans finished third at the FIFA World Cup by playing an eye-catching brand of football.
But Low says the pair provide Ballack with 'solid competition, [which is] almost too strong' and the coach has sent out mixed messages about his captain.
Ballack, 34, made the last of his 98 appearances last March in the 1-0 friendly defeat to Argentina and Bayern Munich defender Philipp Lahm has stepped in as caretaker captain in his absence.
Low has always said the door is open for Ballack to return to the national side, but with his first-choice team settled, the coach has also said Ballack will have to fight to get his place back.
Ballack has said he wants to captain Germany in their UEFA EURO 2012 qualification campaign and then lead his country at the finals to be held in the Ukraine and Poland in June 2012. He led them to the final of EURO 2008 where they lost to Spain.
Germany face Italy in a friendly in Dortmund next February and, with Ballack not expected to play again for his Bundesliga side Leverkusen until January, he will need to prove his fitness.