One Cap Wonders No. 8: Hanno Balitsch

It’s been a while since the last One Cap Wonder, and the series resumes with the story of a man who would be a German international for some twenty-eight minutes: Hanno Balitsch.

Palma de Mallorca, 12th February 2003

Having been a regular in the Under-21 side from 2002 and captain in the 2004 Under-21 European Championship, the then twenty-two year old Bayer 04 Leverkusen midfielder would be one of three debutants for the senior side against Spain in Mallorca – the others being TSV 1860 München’s Benjamin Lauth and VfL Wolfsburg defender Tobias Rau, both a year younger than Balitsch.

Born in Alsbach-Hähnlein near Darmstadt in the state of Hessen, former junior high jump champion Balitsch would start with local club FC Alsbach before signing professional terms with 2. Bundesliga side SV Waldhof Mannheim, before moving to 1. FC Köln in 2001 and then the BayArena the following year. The Leverkusen connection would no doubt play a part in Nationaltrainer Rudi Völler picking him for the squad for the first friendly of 2003, and Balitsch would start on the bench with fellow debutant Rau making his first appearance.

Were it not for a quirk of fate, Balitsch’s twenty-eight minutes as a German international may not have happened at all. With six minutes played in the second half with the score at 1-1 with Raúl’s 31st-minute strike for the hosts being cancelled out by Fredi Bobic seven minutes later, the impressive Rau would take a knock and be replaced by Werder Bremen’s Frank Baumann.

Baumann however would himself suffer an injury just twelve minutes later, and Balitsch would suddenly get his opportunity to step out onto the pitch in the famous white Nationaltrikot.

The remaining twenty-eight minutes would not be a happy one for the young defender or his team. Though Balitsch was hardly to blame, the injuries would leave the Germans disjointed and shapeless – and the final quarter of an hour would see Spain take control. With fourteen minutes left on the clock Raúl would put the Spaniards ahead with a penalty after he had been upended by Christian Wörns, and just six minutes later Guti would add a third to wrap things up.

Things were desperate in the early 2000s and the Nationaltrainer continually struggled to find an eleven capable taking on top-class opposition, but the unfortunate Balitsch never played for the Nationalmannschaft again.

Out on the fringes

Despite being no better or worse than many of the journeymen who would make their way in and out of the squad at the time, the former Under-21 captain remained on the fringe for a while and make the bench for the April 2003 friendly against Serbia and Montenegro, but that would be nearest he would ever come to adding to his solitary international appearance.

Hanno Balitsch (fifth from the right) watches from the sidelines during the friendly against Serbia and Montengro in April 2003

After three years in and out of the side at Leverkusen Balitsch would make the 200km journey down the road to newly-promoted FSV Mainz 05, but just six months later would be signed by Hannover 96 for a million Euros. A more successful five year stint at the AWD-Arena would see him rack up 150 appearances for the side from Lower Saxony, and in 2010 would move back to Leverkusen for another two-year spell.

Unable to get a consistent run in the Bayer team under Jupp Heynckes and then Robin Dutt, Balitsch would move down south to 1. FC Nürnberg would follow at the beginning of 2012. At the age of thirty-three, he is still enjoying top-flight football.

Balitsch has also done his bit for the community as well. Since 2010, he has been the patron of Einfach Fußball – “Simply Football” – a DFB-affiliated community project connecting children and young people with disabilities with professional football clubs.

One Cap Wonders No. 8: Hanno Balitsch

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