Ghana's rocks may miss World Cup

Injuries to powerful Mensah, Essien and Appiah could leave Black Stars to rely on youth.

    Mensah, right, challenges Brazil's Ronaldo at the last World Cup in 2006 [GALLO/GETTY]

    Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac has described as a "disaster" the injury crisis that threatens to hamper his team's prospects at the World Cup 2010 finals.

    Rajevac came through a similar dilemma with flying colours at the Africa Cup of Nations in January but is less confident of pulling off the same feat again against much more formidable opposition at the World Cup.

    Injuries could deprive Ghana of their three acknowledged leaders, including the inspirational Michael Essien who has been battling with knee and ankle complaints over the last nine months.

    Also in jeopardy are captain Stephen Appiah, who has played a limited number of games over the last two years because of a serious knee complaint, and John Mensah, the towering defender.

    "It's a dire situation because the three have been our captains," said Serbian-born coach Rajevac in an interview with the German sports magazine Kicker last week.

    "I want to put together a powerful mix of young and experienced players."


    Having finished runners-up in the continental finals in Angola in January, and with the under-20s winning their World Cup in Egypt three months earlier, Rajevac should have that mix ready-made despite the absence of his three leaders.

    "When Appiah was injured it was evident to even Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari that John was the natural leader"

    Claude LeRoy, former Ghana coach 

    Mensah's impenetrable defending have led to the Ghana centre back being nicknamed "Rock of Gibraltar".

    Despite the image of a sturdy defensive bastion, Mensah has battled with a brittle back over the last two seasons and found his playing time limited by a list of different muscle injuries that stem from the problem.

    It was the reason that he missed the recent Africa Cup of Nations in Angola and a significant number of games for Sunderland, who have him on loan from French club Lyon and have spoken of their desire to soon sign him to a permanent deal.

    Mensah comes from a talented group of Ghanaian players who used the opportunity of the stage provided by the 2001 World Youth Championship in Argentina to earn contracts with clubs in Europe.

    He went to Italy with Bologna but, unlike contemporaries Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah, it took him several years to convince the Italians of his real potential.

    He spent five years playing mainly in Serie B on loan deals before his career suddenly took off with a move to France at the start of 2006.

    At Stade Rennes, he quickly caught the eye at a club with a well-deserved reputation for finding promising talent, polishing it up and selling it on.

    A season-and-a-half with Rennes led to Mensah moving to champions Lyon in July 2008.

    Earlier the same year he had led Ghana on home soil when they hosted the Nations Cup finals, standing in as captain for the injured Appiah.

    'Natural leader'

    "When Appiah was injured it was evident to even Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari that John was the natural leader," Ghana's coach at the time Claude LeRoy said.

    "He didn't talk much but when he did it was effective and coherent. He had a magnetic effect on the players."

    Essien's own importance to Ghana cannot be underestimated, leaving the Black Stars on edge as they await a decision on his fitness for the World Cup.

    The Chelsea midfielder has a long-term knee injury and, though he has been named in the preliminary squad, could miss the tournament in South Africa.

    The quietly-spoken Essien has played only half a match since December when he injured a hamstring in the European Champions League.

    He returned for the Africa Cup in Angola, playing 45 minutes for his country, but then suffered a serious knee injury in a collision with teammates during training.

    His chances of returning for the World Cup remain unclear with Essien last month telling the Chelsea website: "The last thing I want is to rush back and cause more problems down the line. If I make it for the World Cup then great – if not, I have my whole career ahead of me."

    SOURCE: Reuters


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