return of Essien will lift GHana

LONDON - Ghana assistant coach Kwesi Appiah has welcomed Michael Essien's return to action following the midfielder's reserve team appearance on Monday.

The 26-year-old Essien, above, completed 90 minutes against Aston Villa, even scoring in Chelsea's 4-3 defeat, as he came back from long-term knee problems.

Last September, Essien ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament during the Black Stars' surprise World Cup qualifying defeat in Libya. Now he's in line to contest Ghana's opening Group D tie at home to Benin later this month as Africa's final round of World Cup and Cup of Nations qualifying gets under way.

"I think all Ghanaians will thank God that one of our best players in the whole world has returned to the fold," Appiah told BBC Sport. "That was something that we were all praying for.

"He's one player all Ghanaians need in our campaign for the World Cup. He alone can turn things around when things are really difficult and his presence in our squad will boost the morale of everybody - players, the technical team and all Ghanaians."

Essien's impending return to the Chelsea first team is also providing coach Guus Hiddink with more options as the Blues enter a crucial phase of the season.

While chasing Manchester United for the Premiership title, Chelsea also face Coventry City in the FA Cup quarterfinals this weekend before travelling to Italy next week for the massive Champions League tie against Juventus. - BBC