drogba takes on essien

CABINDA, Angola - Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien faces one of the greatest challenge of his international career when he captains Ghana against Ivory Coast in Cabinda today.

CABINDA, Angola - Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien faces one of the greatest challenge of his international career when he captains Ghana against Ivory Coast in Cabinda today.

The workaholic with the biting tackle and thunderous drive must inspire an injury-ravaged Black Stars side against the under-pressure Afcon title favourites in a crunch Group B clash.

It will be the second fixture in this restive northern Angola enclave where an ambush last Friday claimed three lives as the Togolese delegation crossed the border from a Congo training camp.

Togo withdrew from the Afcon, leaving Ghana, Ivory Coast and outsiders Burkina Faso fighting for two quarterfinal places. The Burkinabe threw a spanner in the works by forcing a goalless stalemate with the Ivorians.

Ghana go into the match without the likes of Anthony Annan, Stephen Appiah, Laryea Kingston, John Pantsil and John Mensah because of injuries.

Earlier withdrawals saw the number of stars from the Ghana 2009 World Youth Championship-winning squad called up by Serb coach Milovan Rajevac swell to eight.

And Rajevac admitted that several could be in the starting line-up at the 20000-seat Chiazi Stadium alongside Essien, who has had his own problems. A hamstring tear sidelined him in the build-up to the three-week tournament and he arrived only 48 hours before the kickoff from snowbound London.

The Ivorian Elephants' captain and Chelsea striker Didier Drogba says this will probably be his Afcon swansong. He craves glory for a squad known as the "golden generation" but which lacks a trophy to show for their sometimes sublime mix of skill and steel. Defeat by Ghana could lead to a first-round exit for Ivory Coast. - Sapa-AFP

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