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How much would Ghana miss Essien?

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Piers Edwards | 07:58 UK time, Friday, 23 April 2010

At their first World Cup four years ago, Ghana's campaign came off the wheels when Chelsea star and midfielder Michael Essien missed the second round clash against Brazil.

Even with him the Black Stars' hopes were slim but without a man whose group displays were heroic, those hopes were wafer-thin - as shown when Brazil won 3-0.

Now Ghana's World Cup dreams are being revised again with the news the midfielder may not just miss the last five months of Chelsea's season but June's finals as well, because of a nagging knee problem.

"Until I know how the injury improves, it'll be difficult to say whether I'll make the World Cup," he told Ghanaian media this week.

"If not, I'll have to sit at home and support the team like every Ghanaian. It would be a disappointment but the World Cup is the best and most difficult football tournament in the world, and I'd rather be there fully fit."

Essien's absence would be a hammer blow to Ghana's hopes - 'indispensable' is what one former national coach calls him - but his potential absence would be mollified by one thing: the West Africans' outstanding production line of midfield talent.

A trip back in time conjures up names like Ibrahim Sunday, Abdul Razak, Abedi Pele, all former African Footballers of the Year and Nii Lamptey, the current generation - Essien, Stephen Appiah, Sulley Muntari - as well as the new breed, Agyemang Badu and Kwadwo Asamoah, who excelled in January's Nations Cup in Angola.

As many Ghanaians will tell you, this is not coincidental, merely the result of the country's most popular kick-about, a game called small posts where there are two tiny goals with no set goalkeeper on a crowded and cramped field - meaning the game finely hones players' dribbling and passing, skills that are invaluable to a midfielder.

Michael Essien
Essien's season has been dogged by a persistent knee problem

Should Essien be unavailable, coach Milovan Rajevac can be grateful to small posts that his back-ups have such quality - Udinese midfielder Asamoah, 21, for one.

He's one of five Italy-based players likely to make the squad, up from one in 2006, while the tally in England, just Essien at the last finals, will be four if the 'Bison' makes it (five if you include the bid to recruit Kevin-Prince Boateng).

For many years, Ghana's overachieving Black Stars were - conversely - African football's great underachievers. African champions in 1963 and 1965, the Ghanaians repeated the feat in 1978 and 1982 - but without ever qualifying for the World Cup.

After Ghana's last title, a long period of failure followed at senior level - with the potentially golden years of Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah ruined by the duo's personal enmity.

But things changed at the start of the millennium.

The Ghana FA (GFA) became professional, well led by the ever-smiling Kwesi Nyantakyi, and with bonuses promptly paid and larger than ever (reportedly US$10,000 (£6,500) per man per win in Angola) team morale is no longer affected by broken promises.

When Serbian Ratomir Dujkovic took charge in 2004, he exploited the burgeoning unity by fine-tuning a side featuring arguably Africa's best midfield - Muntari, Essien, Appiah and Laryea Kingston - to finally end the World Cup agony.

And the Black Stars didn't disappoint in Germany, losing to champions Italy before beating the Czechs and the United States to make the knockout stage at the first time of asking.

In 2008, as qualifying for this summer's finals got under way, the GFA wanted a Serb coach again - bringing in Rajevac, who'd known relative success with various clubs back home and who's since converted a heavily-sceptical media with his discipline and shrewd stewardship.

Despite a tough group, Ghana were Africa's earliest qualifiers for the continent's first World Cup and then, despite the absences of Essien, Appiah, John Mensah, John Pantsil, Kingston and Muntari (dropped for indiscipline), Rajevac defied the odds by leading a patched-up side to the Nations Cup final with a succession of 1-0 wins.

"When I got this job, I studied so many DVDs and concluded there was plenty of space for defensive improvement," the Serb explains.

"The defence was conceding soft goals, with players in bad positions, so I improved that part of our game."

The unassuming Rajevac helped himself by fielding five Black Satellites, who won Africa's first U20 World Cup last year, in Angola: marauding right-back Samuel Inkoom, midfielders Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Opoku Agyemang and Andre 'Dede' Ayew (Pele's son), and striker Dominic Adiyiah, now of AC Milan.

They're in line to make Rajevac's squad - as are Wigan keeper Richard Kingson, on-form Rennes striker Asamoah Gyan and all the returning Angola absentees, even Inter's Muntari (who's reconciled his differences with the coach) and Bologna's Appiah , likely to be recalled despite next-to-no playing time over the last two years.

While Angola gave Rajevac a selection headache most coaches would love, and he says he'll go for the right blend of youth and experience, he knows Group D - comprising Germany, Australia and Serbia - won't be easy.

Ghana's super-optimistic fans will be traditionally confident but emerging above the Germans or Serbs, real dark horses come June, will require the resilience and concentration so impressively displayed in January.

Ghana's opener with Serbia on 13 June should be fascinating considering Rajevac's insight into his home nation while the Europeans have their own insider - the Serbs' current U21 coach being a certain R Dujkovic.

The latter led Ghana onto football's greatest stage for the first time, meaning the bright lights that dazzled some may since have dimmed.

"Before playing Brazil, some of our reserves were just gawping at Ronaldinho as they warmed up," says former Ghana coach Cecil Jones Attuquayefio.

"Because we hadn't rubbed shoulders with the best before Germany 2006 - but then we played Italy and Brazil, and our standards have risen. We can reach the quarter-finals."

To do that, they might just have to beat England.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Essien is the best defensive midfielder in the world and would walk into any international side. Although Ghana are relatively strong in midfield, they would still miss him horribly.

  • Comment number 2.

    No matter what anyone says, essien in my opinion is in the top 5 central midfielders in the premiership, and top 10 in europe, he is an outstanding player and ghana would certainly be a worse team without him. yes they have improved since 2006, but they still need their best players to perform to their maximum to have a chance, because in general, african teams tend to have weak defences / goalkeepers.

  • Comment number 3.

    Interesting article...

    I remember watching Stephen Appiah in the 06 World cup and the 08 ACON and he was just immense. I vaguely remember him being out of contract or something like that at the time too and I was amazed nobody was snapping him up, but doesn't he have some kind of heart problem so maybe thats why clubs weren't taking a punt on him?

  • Comment number 4.

    I think people need to keep an eye on Asamoah Gyan for Ghana. He could be a real star of this world cup if he gets the kind of service we know this midfield is capable of supplying.

    But Essien is the engine of the team. Much as I hate Chelsea, I feel you'd be hard pushed to find a harder working midfielder than Essien.

  • Comment number 5.

    The African cup of nations game against nigeria was a prime example of why Ghana would miss Essien massively. A shocking lack of technique and finesse, just lots of good atheletes. time and again there was an inability to pick a pass when there were 3-on-1's, 4-on-2's etc. and these werent even difficult passes due to the very open nature of that particular game. Without Essien, there is simply no chance Ghana could control a game or retain a decent percentage of possession.

  • Comment number 6.

    As a Dundee United fan I'm actually quite interested in Ghana's midfield at the World Cup, since our own Prince Buaben has been on or around the fringes of the squad on a few occasions. He's coming off a great season for us and I'd love to see him feature in South Africa.

    Any inside info as to his chances?

  • Comment number 7.

    "As many Ghanaians will tell you, this is not coincidental, merely the result of the country's most popular kick-about, a game called small posts where there are two tiny goals with no set goalkeeper on a crowded and cramped field - meaning the game finely hones players' dribbling and passing, skills that are invaluable to a midfielder."


    Is anyone else a bit board of this nonsense about these smaller versions of football leading to the countries 11 aside teams style, yeah they like futsol in Spain and they play a good passing game, they also like it in Brazil and their national team is now dominated by pace and power, over here the vast amounts of people only play 5 a side, is this what leads to Englands long ball style and love of 442 (bit difficult to manage that with 5 kids), I doubt it.

  • Comment number 8.

    I am going to be honest here and say that if he is not fully fit, I truly hope he doesn't play. Michael is an amazing footballer, and first and foremost a great gentleman, so it makes it hard to say that, but surely Ghana should be learning their lessons. He wasn't fully fit for the start of the ACON, but they played him anyway (against the advice of the Chelsea doctor who had accompained Michael to Angola) and look what has happened. Time and again he has put his heart and soul into playing for his country, coming back injured and robbing Chelsea of their best player, so for that reason (selfish I know) I hope if he's not fully fit, they don't patch him up and he plays.
    We've (I'm a Chelsea fan) have looked lackluster without him, and we could do with having him back!
    For those that are interested, Mr Essien has been writing an interesting series of blogs for the Chelsea website: http://www.chelseafc.com/page/Essien_Index

  • Comment number 9.

    Ghana will miss Essien but that is the least of their worries. Their midfield is stocked with some excellent players like Muntari, Kingston and Appiah. I would be more concerned about the lack of striking talent. Gyan is a good player but is not a top striker. The other three West African nations have this in Drogba/Kalou, Eto'o and Yakubu/Martins. Same can be said about the defence, not too much quality there. However the team spirit and the hunger of the younger players that was evident in the ACON earlier this year may be the thing that helps Ghana be successful this summer.

  • Comment number 10.

    South Africa are the best equipped african nation at 2010, and they will get further than any of their continental counterparts. Why? Because they have a balanced team in terms of ability.

    It is no good having a midfield of supreme quality, and that is what Essien et al offer, then having Junior Agogo featuring. Football is a team game, and the other african teams have very strong points, and then very very poor points in their sides. Drogba, Eboue, Toure? Yes, Demel, Dindane, Kalou? No.

    African teams successes are dictated by their "generation" the 3 or 4 players that help them form a average-good international side.

    Nigeria 94, Cameroun 90, Senegal 02

    South Africa to get the furthest...ie the quarter finals where they will be beaten comprehensively akin to Nigeria vs Denmark in 1998

  • Comment number 11.

    #10

    Surely you can't be serious about that? South Africa are probably the weakest african team at the world cup. They have balance but only pienaar is of any quality really. The confederations cup showed this as they probably tried the hardest of all the teams with a home support but never managed to really put in a good performance at any stage.

    Dindane, kalou and demel would walk in to the SA team, great players they aren't but they are still good players. I do believe ghana will do well to make the last 16 as serbia have a good team right now and thats who i'd imagine they will be challenging with to qualify. Essien would be a massive loss for any team at the world cup let alone for Ghana but they could do ok without him if they showed the work ethic evident in the ACON

  • Comment number 12.

    Essien would be missed in any team. Ghana will be difficult to beat - and they don't have striking qualities of the ICoast - but am not sure they will get through their group. The key match will be against the Serbs who are equally strong in the midfield but have better offensive players.

    SA will struggle unless the FIFA refs help them out as the home team. Best placed African team? My money's on either ICoast (who may feel they have something to prove after the African Nations Cup) or Algeria who England fans tend to dismiss at their peril.

  • Comment number 13.

    # 3 I may be wrong here but didn't Appiah have offers from a few English clubs but went to Fenerbahce?? Is that not when they were throwing crazy money around on players.. I'm sure I remember a manager saying he wouldn't compete with the 50k a week wages..

    Of course Essien will be missed.. You only have to see how unfit he was at ACON and they still risked him.. this shows his influence and the lengths they will go to try and have it..

  • Comment number 14.

    Very difficult group for Ghana.

    Piers, you failed to mention Australia's strenghts in this group. Very well organised. Bigger dark horses than serbia with all there big names playing throughout europe.

    Germany and the socceroos in my opinion.

  • Comment number 15.

    The last 5 months of chelseas season? Do you not mean the last few games?

  • Comment number 16.

    I remember Manchester Utd V Chelsea champions league final, where essien got tawn to shreds by Ronaldo.

    Happy days

  • Comment number 17.

    7. At 11:07am on 23 Apr 2010, gunnerslovver2007 wrote:
    "As many Ghanaians will tell you, this is not coincidental, merely the result of the country's most popular kick-about, a game called small posts where there are two tiny goals with no set goalkeeper on a crowded and cramped field - meaning the game finely hones players' dribbling and passing, skills that are invaluable to a midfielder."


    Is anyone else a bit board of this nonsense about these smaller versions of football leading to the countries 11 aside teams style, yeah they like futsol in Spain and they play a good passing game, they also like it in Brazil and their national team is now dominated by pace and power, over here the vast amounts of people only play 5 a side, is this what leads to Englands long ball style and love of 442 (bit difficult to manage that with 5 kids), I doubt it.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I second that!

  • Comment number 18.

    Chelsea have already suffered horribly without Essien.

    I wonder that the Ghanian coach must have had a look at this because he is an important member who can never be neglected.

  • Comment number 19.

    Yes, Ghana will miss Essien the same way England would miss Wayne Rooney,Spain would miss Fernando Torres, and Argentina would miss Lionel Messi. I believe it could be the difference between getting out of the group and going home early. Let's pray he's truly fit to take part. Whatever happens I believe the Black Stars' will give a good account of themselves and, though lacking a truly world-class forward will squeeze through to the second round.
    @ tomefcan..it's amazing how blindly we support our teams. South Africa are clearly the weakest of the African teams and will have to play very well indeed by their current standards not to finish bottom in their group. If well-balanced means all the players are mediocre as is the case with the current Bafana Bafana, give me a team with some match-winners!!
    I believe Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria,Algeria, and Cameroun all have a good chance to qualify from their groups even though it should be evident by now that the Ivorians, fine team that they undoubtedly are, are still clearly overrated. They look sensatinal thrashing second-tier African teams but they are not better than the other top African teams and results over the past 5 years bear that out. If the Algerians had been less profligate they could have scored 6 or 7 against the Ivorians at the Nations Cup. Yet you find Ivorians quoted about 28 to 1 for the World Cup and the rest quoted at 50 to 1 (Ghana) or worse.
    I look forward to a great tournament.

  • Comment number 20.

    Any team would miss a player like Essien, no matter whether or not they've got a strong midfield you can't say that they won't miss him

  • Comment number 21.

    I hope that Rajevac has a good look at Prince Buaben, who at 21 has been the driving force behind Dundee United's impressive season. A future premiership star without a doubt.

  • Comment number 22.

    THE WORLD WILL MISS ESSIEN NOT JUST GHANA...I REMEMBER WHEN HE COWER STEVIE-G NOT LONG AGO....ESSIEN IS AN INCREDIBLE TALENT IN WORLD FOOTBALL...

    ANYWAY I THINK AND BELIEVE HE WOULD BE FIT FOR GHANA ONLY IF CHELSEA MEDICS DO NOT LIE ABOUT HIS INJURIES..

  • Comment number 23.

    Ghana have a very good midfield, with or without Essien. Kingston on his day is the best player in the SPL, far too good for Scottish football when he wants to be. Muntari is a top class midfielder, as shown by playing for Internazionale. Appiah, as has been previously mentioned, is a world-class midfielder, and I've heard good things about Asamoah. Prince Buaben is also a very good player.

    As somebody said above, the main issue is up-front for them...

  • Comment number 24.


    Assuming he stays fit, keep an eye on John Mensah.

    An absolute colossus (spelling) at the back, reads the game well, tough in the tackle, confident with the ball and distributes to the front line with ease.

    A very, very high quality defender.

  • Comment number 25.

    as a Ghana i hope essien take his time to heal. we have many tallented midfielders to cover for him. kwadwo asamoah, anthony annan, muntari, prince boateng, agyeman badu and many more. we love essien but if he is not fit to play, i will prefer him to rest. our main problem is our coach and GFA. we have some of the best strikers in africa but they refuse to select them. for example eric bekoe (the goal king in egypt), dominic adiyiah (the goal king in fifa u21) and many others that can help asamoah gyan. our defense is perfect with the likes of pantsil, vosah, sarpie and addy. we have all the pieces but our chances of winning the world cup depends on the players we select. anyways may God be with essien and i do pray he heals to 100% and be ready for the world cup.

  • Comment number 26.

    So kids kicking around on a bit of wasteground leads to Ghana having a great midfield. A bit far-fetched that one, mate.

  • Comment number 27.

    i've heard Essien speak of this small posts game in an interview or two, so no actually, it does not seem far fetched, given that you have the actual players drawing the link themselves.

  • Comment number 28.

    22. emml

    no need to shout mate

  • Comment number 29.

    I've seen a few posts saying that Michael Essien would walk into any team in the world - I completely concur. Essien's a fantastic player.

    Incidentally Piers, I was at a few of the group stage matches in Burkina in 98 - Ivory Coast v Angola and South Africa v I can't remember. Which matches did you go to at the tournament?

  • Comment number 30.

    essien is one of the finest midfielders in the world. and probably the best in world in his role. of course ghana will miss him, anyone team would miss a talent like that. chelsea certainly missed him against inter milan

  • Comment number 31.

    #10 - "South Africa are the best equipped african nation at 2010, and they will get further than any of their continental counterparts. Why? Because they have a balanced team in terms of ability."

    I'd love to even try to pick out something I agree with...but I really can't; it's utter nonsense.

    Pretty much the only advantage SA have over other African nations is that they are the host nation. Having seen them in the Confederations Cup (a Mickey Mouse competition if you ask me), they only really have Steven Pienaar of any top-level quality - and even he's inconsistent. Ghana, meanwhile, have a lot in their locker, if they are still perhaps a little naive in their play. The fact that most of that midfield mentioned above has played at the very top says a lot about how highly rated Ghana's players are. And, although Essien undoubtedly makes a difference to ANY side, I still think Africa's best hopes lie with Ghana.

    Had Guus Hiddink gone with the Ivory Coast, however, I'd have been backing them for at least a Q-F place...

  • Comment number 32.

    I personally think that Michael Essien could run for a day solid he is that fit. He would be a worthy asset in any team, if only i could wish he would come up to Scotland to play his trade.

    Michael Essian is Class!

  • Comment number 33.

    Great blog real insight into Ghana football. never actually thought of how the small post develops midfielder for which we are immensely blessed with in Ghana. may also be why we lack real goalscorers.

  • Comment number 34.

    Actually, anyone that has coached kids knows that small sided games played on even smaller areas are by far the most effective way to encourage dribbling and ball control skills, so I completely understand the influence of the "Small Posts" game; all of you nay-sayers are talking through your bottoms

  • Comment number 35.

    #34, I don't think anyone's talking through his/her bottoms, I also agree it's a far-fetched comment. I've played in such pitches, and at that age, a kid only wants to run with the ball himself and score. Passing doesn't occur very often. So I'm not sure if passing is really developed there...Or at least close control, which for me is a must-talent for a midfielder. The guys we see on TV have gone to football academies to hone their talent.

    Essien would be a big loss, despite the talent in Ghana's midfield. He surely would walk into any team in the world. He oozes class.

    By the way, it seems lots of top European clubs show a liking for African defensive midfielders these times...Song at Arsenal, Mikel & Essien at Chelsea, Toure Yaya & Keita at Barcelona, M.Diarra at Real Madrid, Zokora at Sevilla, Sissoko at Juve, Muntari & Mariga at Inter...and don't get me started with those based in France. Why is that?

  • Comment number 36.

    One more thing, Ghana's weakness might be that they don't have a cutting edge upfront when it matters. Asamoah Gyan is a good striker, but he's alone...Amoah doesn't seem to have his best games with the national team, and this cup is maybe too early for Adiyah (sp) What happened to Junior Agogo??!!

    And Ghana's defence is superb, not a liability like other teams like Cameroon...look at John Paintsil, probably the most daring defender in the world, Mensah, Isaac Vorsah at Hoffenheim, an absolute rock, and Hans Sarpei at Leverkusen, speedy down the flank.

  • Comment number 37.

    Essien would not "walk onto any team" - he's efficient, but 100%, completely and totally replaceable.

    Really am fed up with people raving about him, how are Chelsea missing him? Is he going to score the goals that the other guys don,t? - Nope. Is he going to singlehandedly halt every attack? - Nope. Is he going to pick the ball up in his own half and skin a bunch of guys and lay on a perfect pass for a teammate? - Nope.

    He's a hardworking midfielder, a good player, but never a world beater.

  • Comment number 38.

    Being Ghanaian, I know that Piers's statement on small posts is true. This is a game that we play into our teenage years and even older. It's not a game where 1 kid can run with the ball and shoot. If a Ghanaian kid runs with the ball every time, invariably he loses the ball, his team mates tag him as selfish and he struggles to be selected.

    Typically, we warm up by playing another game whose name translates into English as "In the Middle". 1 or 2 players stay in the middle of a circle. The players on the fringe pass the ball between them whilst allowed only 1 touch, sometimes 2. If a player "in the middle" can get a touch off any player, he goes on the fringe and the fringe player who missed the pass goes in the middle.

    On small posts, typically the posts are defined by just 2 stones. You can't shoot because for a goal the ball must be on the ground. If it rises as it goes through the post, it's deemed to have gone over an imaginary bar. That means you can really only score with taps-in. There are never any dedicated defs, mids or fwds. Because the field is crowded, a team advances only if they are good at moving into space, 1-touch control and pass. To visualise, think of Xavi and Iniesta. It's actually a more exhausting game to play than a full game because the movement is non-stop and any player can find himself in any role. Every Ghanaian team tends to be stronger in midfield than fwd or def and we all know why.

    Next time you guys watch Essien, don't focus on his strength. Instead, observe his first touch, the way he instinctively looks for the next pass and let's the ball go. Then watch Derrrick Boateng at Getafe if you follow La Liga or even John Mensah, the Sunderland defender.

  • Comment number 39.


    Lovely article on football and footballers in Ghana. Experienced Michael Essien is indeed a huge talent. In defence, midfield and in attack Essien is a highly respected performer in modern day football. Let's hope the all-court-footballer plays for his team in the World Cup.



    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 40.

    Let me start by saying I'm a Man United fan and I would give an arm and a leg to have Essien at United. When Rafael was sent off against and Bayern got to run us ragged - with Essien in your midfield? Never gonna happen.

    Primarily he is a defensive midfielder but he makes such driving runs through the midfield that almost always result in goal. Remember Chelsea's equaliser against in the CL final, that goal that Lampard scored was as a result of Essien's rampaging run through the middle. I cannot forget how that day, I wished he was our player. He just pretty much rampaged through the middle like a Bull through a mass of sheep.

    Enough about Essien.

    People in countries like England where the weather is not very friendly most of the year cannot truly understand the concept of 'small posts' - no matter how they try. Except perhaps like Piers they have actually spent significant time outside these shores imbibing another culture.

    First of you can play "small posts" anywhere, almost whenever you decide to (even on the street with cars nearby on the roads!). All you need are a ball (or something closely resembling it that can move and doesnt hurt too much to kick, lawn tennis and table tennis ball ARE balls!) and two stones.

    With a ball and two stones any group of boys can challenge each other, find a spot and the game begins. As long as no overzealous adult comes to intervene, you can play almost anywhere, anytime.

    Secondly, the focus is not on 'winning' or 'scoring' as you would find here. No. Culturally the focus is more on 'showing off' how skillful you are - if it results in a goal, all the better! But no-one talks about an uninteresting goal afterwards unless the build up to it was magnificent. After the game, people would talk about the moves endlessly and how brilliantly someone 'turned' another player or dribbled through 3 or 4 in a very narrow space.

    Eventually the games got to be very inetersting to play because of the emphasis on teamwork and the fact that if you played were someone always wanted you in their team. To describe that feeling accurately, it's even better than outscoring the opponent - it's true winning!

  • Comment number 41.

    The possibility that Essien might miss the world cup will not only be physically devastating for the black stars but will also be psychologically tasking for them as say what you like, Essien for me is still unreplaceable for the Ghanian team. Even Chelsea with the arrays of stars at their disposal to choose from still missed him enormously since out with the injury. He needs to be fit for any chance of a dream world cup for Ghana.

  • Comment number 42.

    Any team would miss Essien. Chelsea with all those world class players in their squad miss him now. Essien is their most influential player above the BBC hyped Terry and Lampard. For me he is pound for pound the best player in the world because he is world class in 8 different positions. Messi, Xavi, Ronaldo, Torres and Gerrard are world class in two or three positions at the most.


    The Ivory Coast is getting a lot of hype as Africa's best team because they have many big name players, but for me Ghana are Africa's strongest team by some margin (and that includes African Champions Egypt). As mentioned they are under-20 world champions, beating Brazil with 10 men (they also beat England 4-0 on the way). Ghana sent a complete reverse team to the African Cup of Nations with only two players from their strongest line-up. They get to the final and lose narrowly to Egypt. The Ghana squad will be extremely strong with players from the under-20 team and the first team players fit to play again.


    Most Ghanaians are hoping to play England in the second round because England will be one of the slowest teams in the tournament, especially with slow wingers like Milner and Adam Johnson looking like they are going to make the squad. Egypt gave England problems and Ghana have faster, more skillful and more quality players than Egypt. I can see Essien and Muntari steamrolling the slow Barry and Lampard in the central midfield.


    The problem for Ghana is strikers. The only major African country without a top quality forward to finish off the many chances they create. Balotelli has refused to play for Ghana and Danny Welbeck is holding out for an England career. Ghana produce players so good that they often end up playing for other national teams. Jerome Boteng is said to be the best young player in German. He is now a starter for Germany and his brother Freddie Prince has committed his international future to Ghana. Balotelli has choosen Italy over Ghana and when you look at the youth teams of England they are full of young players of Ghanaian origins. For some reason Ghanaians born abroad don't won't to play for the national team. But Nigerians born abroad do want to play for Nigeria. Maybe it is down to quality because players like Jerome Boteng, Freddie Prince Boteng and Balotelli do have a choice of nationals teams to play for, but Danny Shitu, Victor Anichebe and Nedum Onuoha aren't good enough to play for anybody else but Nigeria.

  • Comment number 43.

    @derek0200

    "Maybe it is down to quality because players like Jerome Boteng, Freddie Prince Boteng and Balotelli do have a choice of nationals teams to play for, but Danny Shitu, Victor Anichebe and Nedum Onuoha aren't good enough to play for anybody else but Nigeria"

    The statement above is wrong. Nigerians on average compared to other Africans even if born or raised in the west have Nigerian roots installed in them so hence they want to play for Nigeria. As for Balotelli I do not blame him for not wanting to play for Ghana. What does he know about Ghana? Does he know his roots, his Village, history. For heaven sakes he even bears an Italian name. His main gripe is that his parents abandoned him..which say alot about Ghanaian and other African parents including some Nigerians about having kids then abandoning them. The biggest joke doing the rounds in Holland a few years back was the Hull captain George Boateng literally begging to play for Holland. Have these guys no shame. Playing for your country should be like going to war not wanting to fight when you can see one side is likely to win.

    Back to Essien, it will be a big loss for Ghana as I feel he is one of the best all round mildfieders in world football. Ghana have a good youth team and I was impressed but not happy with them beating Nigeria at ANC 2010 and where so unlucky in the final against Egypt. Personally I will be cheering all the African teams on but not so much for Nigeria. I am a proud Nigerian but to sack a Nigerian coach who qualified us for the world cup 4 months before SA 2010, his only crime he lost a semi-final in the ANC is just criminal and shows the inferiority complex Africans still have..sigh!!!! Even FIFA head S.Blatter has noticed this sickening attitude hence a bbc article a few days ago.

    I hope Essien makes it, but his career comes first and also its better to have a fully fit player than a half fit player.

  • Comment number 44.

    An interesting article. I would have preferred it if you'd gone into a bit more detail as to the abilities of the players, such as the never-say-die attitude and real physical presence that they bring. I would also have like it if you'd mentioned a bit more of Stephen Appiah. In 2006 there was a reason why he was captain ahead of the likes of Essien. He was the midfield general responsible for putting the other teams in the World Cup to shame and Essien was HIS foil. Had injury not blighted his career I would have absolutely loved it if Manchester United had signed him instead of Carrick or Hargreaves.

  • Comment number 45.

    I think coach Rajevac will find it very difficult to get someone to play
    Essien's role if he is unavailable.There is no shortage of attacking
    midfielders with the likes of Stephen Appiah,Derek Boateng,Sulley Muntari
    Kwadjo Asamoah, Kevin Prince Boateng and the group from the U-20 World
    cup winning team but the Black Star need a player who can disrupt the
    attack of the opposing side.One player who comes into mind is Ahmed Barusso.

    I hope the coach will seriously consider him for the World cup squad.Good luck

  • Comment number 46.

    Personally i think ghana is probably stronger than the likes of ivory coast,cameroon,nigeria and south africa in terms of coping with injuries to be honest that proved at the african of nations when they had a half of a team of reserves and from their under 20 winning team but i have to say they will a bit lucky in the game against nigeria they should have been dead and buried!.

    With essien of ocurse its a blow big but i think ghana are the best equipped to make it past the group stages of the world cup to be honest no matter how many injuries they have. Ivory coast im not keen on them they have a very tough group,nigeria were just inconsistant in the african cup of nations they looked old and shattered, cameroon need some players to inject some life into that star-studded team.

  • Comment number 47.

    @Galaxy-man

    'The statement above is wrong. Nigerians on average compared to other Africans even if born or raised in the west have Nigerian roots installed in them so hence they want to play for Nigeria. As for Balotelli I do not blame him for not wanting to play for Ghana. What does he know about Ghana? Does he know his roots, his Village, history. For heaven sakes he even bears an Italian name. His main gripe is that his parents abandoned him..which say alot about Ghanaian and other African parents including some Nigerians about having kids then abandoning them. The biggest joke doing the rounds in Holland a few years back was the Hull captain George Boateng literally begging to play for Holland.'

    The more I think about it, it is really down to quality why many Ghanaian players tend to play for other national teams. Outside of Brazil, Ghana will be the most represented in other national teams. It is nothing to do with pride or knowing your roots because Ghanaians have a far prouder history than many African nations, especially compared to Nigeria.

    Nedum Onuoha was an England player all the way in his development till his mid 20s. When he realised he had no chance of playing in the senior England team, he then wanted to play for Nigeria. This was nothing to do with pride and knowing your roots because if Onuoha was a realistic choice for Capello, he would never have choosen Nigeria. Danny Shitu and Anichebe are mediocre players, so Nigeria was their only option for international football.

    The problem for Ghana is that they produce far better players than Nigeria despite being a far smaller country, so their players are more attractive to other national teams. Freddie Prince Boteng is a former young German player of year, His brother Jerome is also a former player of the year and considered the best defender in Germany. Balotelli is considered the best young player in of all Italy and known as the Italian Wayne Rooney. These are not bench warmers like the Nigerian players I mentioned, these players of Ghanaian hertitage have a real choice who to play for because they have great potential to be world class.

    When Nigerian players like the Fashanu brothers were good enough to play for other major national teams they did, but Nigerian players are fairly average now and far less coveted today. By the way the Fashanu brothers were two Nigerians abandoned by their family, so I think Nigerians have more to learn about bringing up children from Ghanaians because our Christian and Muslim communities don't try and murder each other. Jay Jay Okocha was Nigeria's greatest ever player with one of the most skillful africans ever, but he wasn't a top player because he never played for big teams. Pele, Desially, Asamoah and Essien played for the very best teams in the countries they were in, so these were top players, despite not having the skill of Okocha. Nigeria produce good players but Ghana produce very good or great players. I actually know some African internationals and you couldn't be more wrong by saying Nigerians players have a greater sense of pride than other African players. I think Nigerian players I have met have the least passion about their national team and country compared to other African players I have met. This is the main reason Nigeria have been terrible for the last 8 years.

    I once saw George Boateng in an interview say how proud he was to be Ghanaian, which is great, but he still played for the Holland national team instead.

    The first black professional footballer ever was a Ghanaian goalkeeper over a hundred years ago. The first African to win the European Cup was a Ghanaian, The first black player to play for Germany was a Ghanaian. The first black person to win the European cup with two different teams was Ghanaian. The first black captain of a World Cup and European Nations Cup winning team was a Ghanaian; Therefore there is plenty of things in football, before we even consider history, politics and culture to make a Ghanaian proud.

    I think the big thing that stopped many talented Ghanaian players opting for Ghana in International football was the fact that Ghana, despite being the second most successful team in Africa, only qualified for it's first world cup in 2006. This led to a generation of players like George Boateng, Marcell Desially, Gerald Asamoah, Freddie Adu and Maurice Adu opting to play for other countries. To quote Bob Dylan 'the times are a changing' because now that Ghana qualify for the World Cup more often you are now getting a generation of players like Quincy Owusu and Freddie Prince Boateng turning their backs on their countries of birth to play for Ghana.

  • Comment number 48.

    I remember them playing against us (the Czechs) at the last WC. We were considered a solid team and potentials to go beyond the group stages, but the Ghanians tore us to shreds - won 3-0, but they could score five or six. Absolutely awesome display - of course we played terrible that day, but ours was still a decent team with plenty of experience and some talent, semi-finalists of EURO etc.

    Based on that World Cup experience, the current Ghanian team sheet and their performance at the Cup of Nations, I'd back them to go beyond group stages even without Essien, but they would still need immense amounts of luck to reach beyond quarter finals. One can counter their powerful midfield, in which case they really won't have much of a response - but still, countering this midfield may be tougher than it sounds.

  • Comment number 49.

    @37: "Really am fed up with people raving about him, how are Chelsea missing him?"
    ----------------

    Horribly, horribly, mate, we miss him horribly. Every five minutes of the Spurs game, looking at the inept Deco or ineffective Ballack, I was thinking "If only Essien was playing, this wouldn't happen." Yup. And I am sure we would have the title by now if he was fit. He is likely the one player of our squad we cannot replace now.

    This isn't saying he is the best in the world or moaning how sad it is that Chelsea have injured players. This is just saying that Essien is not 100% replacable. Most players are, but not necessarily from within their squads. Ask Arsenal fans how easy it is for them to replace RvP, who by far is not the best in the world. Just pretty damn good, and it is pretty damn tough to replace him.

  • Comment number 50.

    #15, Essien's current injury has kept him out since the AFCON, though he was also injured just before that and hasn't played for Chelsea since December.

    Therefore 5 months is a much better shout than 'the last few games'. Try the Maths

  • Comment number 51.

    @Scottoffee

    @37: "Really am fed up with people raving about him, how are Chelsea missing him?"
    ----------------

    You clearly only understand football in simple terms if you think Essien is just a hard working defensive player. Out of Essien, Deco, Lampard, Ballack and Obi Mikel, Essien is the only central midfielder that can run and drive with the ball at speed in the Chelsea team. That speed, power and drive completely changes the dynamic of the Chelsea team. In every season that Essien has had a long term injury Chelsea have not won the league, even Mourinho said Essien was Chelsea's most important player. Chelsea fans that watch him every game can see the difference when he doesn't play. I think chelsea fans only see 70% of his true ability because he plays in defensive positions and that is why he doesn't score many goals. For Ghana he plays as an attacking midfielder like Steven Gerrard does for Liverpool and he has a very high goal scoring rate for a midfielder. That is why people who know their football know he is one of the best players in the world.

  • Comment number 52.

    @derek02000


    "I think the big thing that stopped many talented Ghanaian players opting for Ghana in International football was the fact that Ghana, despite being the second most successful team in Africa, only qualified for it's first world cup in 2006.
    This led to a generation of players like George Boateng, Marcell Desially, Gerald Asamoah, Freddie Adu and Maurice Adu opting to play for other countries."

    You above comment justifies the tag most that most Africans have a serious complex with Ghana leading the way. If I was a professional footballer as much as playing for the world cup is every player's dream. Playing for your country where your roots are should be your number one and only choice, and if your country never makes it such is life. The bove players you mentioned some where only kids abandoned by their Ghanaian parents so in fairness you could not blame a lost person opting to play for the adopted country. In terms of African football yes Ghana is teh second best in history in terms of the number of ANC crowns but is is a pretty dismal record that they are only participating in their second world cup.

    Also population size has got nothing to do with talent, your either good or bad. John Fashanu for the record opted to play for England because he coudl not get into the Nigerian squad. He is now based in Nigeria how many of the likes of Desailly, Asamoah,G.Boateng, Balotelli ( more chance of Osama Bin Laden coming to 10 Downing Street for tea...lOL ) will go back to Ghana to establish?

    Anyway despite the hostilities and rivalry I will be supporting ALL the African teams...except Nigeria for hiring a European coach..I am still not happy about that.

    I hope Essien makes it and lets cher on an African team to win the world cup or go far. South Africa look very weak but you never know with home support they could go far.


  • Comment number 53.

    The best football that Ghana have EVER played (outside of Africa) was the day they hammered the Czechs at the last World Cup. They made the error of chaging their tactics in the very next match: had they played like previously the Brazilians wouild have been sent home with their tails between their legs. The day they beat the Czechs, they would have beaten ANYONE.

    Anyway: the current problem: yes, Essie would be a major blow not only for how he can get the ball but what he does with it. For such a small guy, he'squite amazing! Size however is the problem for the current Black Stars; many of the players look too small (I dont mean small as in Ghana meaning of "small" which means "young" in Ghana)

    On the subject of best ever Ghanaian player? It was undoubtedly "Golden Boy" Abdul Razak. He was god. If playing today, people would compare him to Maradona. He had the best left foot you will ever see. I also believe he never missed a penalty!

    Ghana has had great defenders too! Remember Addai Kyekyehene from Kotoko?

    Ghana will do well at the WC if they play fast and simple.

  • Comment number 54.

    There's this comment here hitting at that small posts bit. Since I have experienced it firsthand, I am obliged to debunk whatever is contra to it.

    First thing is it wasn't the style of football Piers spoke of, it is primarily the midfield prolificity of Ghana. Ghana has so many of them.

    Next, it isn't even called 'small posts', it's called 'small poles'. Though the idea is same, the there is a name difference. Actually, it should be called 'small stands' for anything that stands still is used. There is another game called 'four corners' which is more for fun than anything but still it improves passing considering it is a one-touch game. The name is descriptive of the game and covers a small area.

    Last, small poles is not exactly like futsal. There are many players and little space.

  • Comment number 55.

  • Comment number 56.

    I'll quickly do my own bit about small posts which is something we play in Nigeria where you have all the kids available split into 2 teams play against each other with very 2 small stones about 1 foot apart as the goals.

    To score you have to dribble, pass the ball quickly tap the ball into the net.

    It is not like 5 a side at all. You don't have the luxury of so much space so you learn to control and move the ball with very little space.

    What this produces is players who can maximise space and good ball on foot control no surprise that countries like Nigeria and Ghana consistently produce really good midfielders.

    I lived in England till I was 10 then went to live in Nigeria and it was clear to me that Nigerian kids were more skilful on the ball than kidsin East London where I grew up.

    However as you can imaging, this approach to football does not produce technically sound footballers on a large pitch where long range passing, shooting e.t.c come to play which until recently when we have had more of our players playing in Europe had exposed the naivety of our players.

    I only hope we don't abandon this approach to playing football as kids as we learn more from our European friends.

    Now to Derek and Galaxy the fact is back when Nigeria was stronger than Ghana and difficult to get into John Fashanu did not play for Nigeria because he knew he would not make the team and at the moment Ghana is strong so Ghanaian players with dual nationality will play for the team they believe is stronger or the team they are more likely to get into.

    This whole thing about national pride and abandoned children and all is the same either way but thats not usually the reason either way.

    The truth is for most footballers they would want to play at the World Cup for the best team they could get into that they have strong ties with either by birth, long time residence or origin.

    I hope all the African teams do well.

    My ranking of the African teams is as follows from strongest to weakest.

    1. Cote D'Ivoire
    2. Ghana
    3. Algeria
    4. Cameroon
    5. Nigeria
    6. South Africa (If they make it out of their group I'll eat my hat)

    any other opinions on the rankings?

  • Comment number 57.

    "...merely the result of the country's most popular kick-about, a game called small posts where there are two tiny goals with no set goalkeeper on a crowded and cramped field - meaning the game finely hones players' dribbling and passing, skills that are invaluable to a midfielder."

    Mate I'm in Australia and we do this at school. You only need a bit of grass about 30 yards long, 4 blazers, jumpers or shoes and you have a game! But seriously, without Essien, I like Australia's chances of victory against them and getting through to the knockout stage to beat England!

  • Comment number 58.

    I believe there is invariably a more efficient way to tacke this problem. my suggestion is that, in order not miss essien in this world cup finals, the FA should contact the powerful men of God in this country to solve this problem. don't this men of God heal people within a second by the God's power? the point is that we need essien to boost our chances in this final. MO MA YEN TENAHO EMA MFORMFOR ENANE KWAYE(A STITCH IN TIME SAVES NINE)

  • Comment number 59.

    Small posts has being the bane of the development of good strikers in Ghana. Just watch their matches and you will see how profligate thier forwards are. In modern football it's goals that count and nothing else, and you're more prone to injuries in small posts due to the crowded fieid abd close contacts. It ended my career before it started at 13 years when I tore my ACL(i didn't know then) through a crunch tackle. Till date my right leg has lost its power to shoot even though I'm still an excellent dribbler.

  • Comment number 60.

    I do believe Ghana will definitely miss Essien, having watched them at the CAF Final against Egypt. Essien is diminutive kind of a player who whose presence can be felt by any side that Ghana will have to play against. But anyway all is not lost as they have the other mid-fielders in Appiah, Muntari, Badu etc.

  • Comment number 61.

    @ ArsenalsTopSupporter (#56)

    Yup, here's MY ranking:
    1. Cameroon
    2. CIV
    3. Nigeria
    4. Ghana
    5. Algeria
    6. South Africa

  • Comment number 62.

    I'd rank the African teams:-

    (1) Cameroon
    (2) Ivory Coast
    (3) Ghana
    (4) Nigeria
    (5) Algeria
    (6) South Africa

  • Comment number 63.

    I watched Ghana win the u-20 World cup with 10 men I think they played well held their nerve and put away the penalties cool as cucumbers. If he's pulled 4-5 from that squad, then prepare to be stunned by their results ! I am pro-Ghana but wish that drogba had been born a liitle bit more to the east and he'd be ghanas top striker. yes in my view they don't have a world class striker like drogba but who knows the world cup may give us one!!

  • Comment number 64.

    I do not want to be against the current here, and of course Essien would be missed by any team in the world, but no team should depend on one player. We have England example that was changed a lot after Beckham retired.
    plase insecte.

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