Tabloid Super Express printed a modified picture of Poland’s Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker demanding: “Leo, bring us their heads!”
But the German camp – whic could well field two Polish-born players on Sunday in Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski – reacted calmly to the provocation.
Ballack, with 81 caps to his name, insisted Germany could not be riled ahead of the start to the European Championship this weekend.
“Unfortunately, these things happen in football, although something like that is not normally seen,” he told sports agency SID at Germany’s Euro 2008 camp in south Switzerland. “These things happen and they won’t affect our preparations for the game.”
The Polish newspaper Fakt opened the media animosities earlier this week with a cover of a kneeling Ballack in a pointy Prussian helmet about to be beheaded by a sword-wielding Beenhakker. The paper suggested he “do it like back in Grunwald,” referring to a battle in 1410 when German knights were decimated by a Polish army.
The two dailies, Fakt and Super Express, were blasted by Beenhakker, slammed by Warsaw’s ambassador to Germany and also faced criticism from high-brow Polish media.
Ironically, Fakt belongs to the German media group Axel Springer. “This shows an idiotic lack of taste. I wish them the worst,” said Poland’s ambassador to Berlin Marek Prawda, quoted in Germany’s Die Welt.
“We apologise to the German people,” Beenhakker told reporters in Austria, where Poland are bracing to meet Germany in their opening game in Group B. “We want to distance ourselves totally from these weird, dirty and sick people,” he said.
The two football sides have met each other 15 times since 1933 with Poland yet to win, the Germans having won 11 of them with the other four finishing in draws.
Aside from Germany and Poland, Group B also contains Croatia and co-hosts Austria.