WORLD CUP : PLAYER TO WATCH
Michael Essien (Ghana)
Until recently, Michael Essien’s strength, dynamism and imposing midfield presence had perhaps earned him greater repute in Europe than in his native Africa. That all changed when Chelsea paid Lyon 38 million euros to make the powerful Ghanaian the most expensive footballer in his continent’s history. A leading role in the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers underlined Essien’s credentials to an African audience and, for the 23-year-old, whose forceful play and goalscoring ability were crucial in helping his country clinch a first-ever place at the finals, Germany 2006 provides an gilt-edged opportunity to further boost his burgeoning profile.
Stephen Appiah (Ghana)
Stephen Appiah, skipper of Ghana, is the heartbeat of their side and was the driving force behind a team that achieved a long-held ambition by qualifying for the World Cup finals for the first time. A combative player who boasts an extraordinary work rate and impressive tactical discipline, the 26-year-old led by example with some imperious midfield displays in qualifying, doing much to ensure the Black Stars came from behind in their group to book a place in Germany. These days, he is playing in Turkey having been sold in the summer of 2005 to Fenerbahce, for whom he has quickly become a major player.