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Former Germany captain Ballack retires at 36

BERLIN (Reuters) - Former Germany captain Michael Ballack announced his retirement at the age of 36 on Tuesday to end a career in which he played for Bayern Munich and Chelsea and helped his country reach the 2002 World Cup final.

Michael Ballack of Bayer Leverkusen waves good bye to supporters during a farewell ceremony prior to their German first division Bundesliga soccer match against Hanover 96 in Leverkusen, April 28, 2012. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Ballack, who returned to Bayer Leverkusen in 2010 but was left without a contract after last season, had been linked with a possible move to the United States or Australia.

“At the age of 36 I can look back at a long and wonderful time in professional football which I did not dare dream of as a child,” he said in a brief statement.

“It was a privilege to have worked with top coaches and fantastic team mates. Obviously I will miss playing in front of 80,000 people or scoring a goal.”

A strong physical presence in midfield with a powerful shot, Ballack, who won 98 caps for Germany, got his breakthrough at Kaiserslautern and in 1998 helped them win the Bundesliga title, the first promoted team to do so.

A three-year spell at Bayer Leverkusen ended in 2002 with the team imploding and narrowly failing to win the Bundesliga, losing in the Champions League final to Real Madrid and to Schalke 04 in the German Cup final in a season that earned them nickname “Neverkusen”.

Ballack then led Germany to the World Cup final against Brazil but the midfielder was suspended for the match which the South Americans won 2-0.

Ballack moved to Bayern in 2002 winning another three Bundesliga titles and three German Cups before signing for Chelsea where he stayed until 2010.

He won domestic titles in England but again tasted defeat when his team lost the 2008 Champions League final on penalties to Manchester United.

The midfielder then steered Germany to the Euro 2008 final before losing to Spain.

An injury just before the 2010 World Cup meant he missed the tournament in South Africa. Coach Joachim Loew never recalled him again, triggering a war of words in which Ballack accusing him of lying.

His return to Leverkusen was unsuccessful with Ballack sidelined with injuries or benched under former coach Robin Dutt. Club president Wolfgang Holzhaeuser said this year Ballack had failed to deliver in his second spell at the club.

“The last few months without football showed me that the time has come to stop. I now look forward to a new chapter in my life and thank my family and all the amazing people who brought me forward, accompanied me and supported me. They all share part of my success,” he said.

Editing by John Mehaffey