AFRICA TRIUMPH IN ESSIEN'S GAME OF HOPE
The Africa XI beat the World XI 4-2 in an entertaining encounter at Michael Essien's Game of Hope and Inspiration in Ghana on Saturday afternoon.
Chelsea were of course well represented, with appearances from Florent Malouda, Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, Geremi, Jody Morris and youngsters Jamal Blackman and Jeffrey Bruma as well as Essien, and it was the hosts who were celebrating at the end, having taken an early lead and rarely looking back. Marcel Desailly watched on from the African XI bench.
Before the game, both sides emerged to warm up in blistering heat to a huge reception from the Ghanaian fans, drowning out the blaring music that would remain until kick-off, replaced then by the sound of various bands in the stands of the Accra Sports Stadium.
Seven players with Chelsea links began the game, and it was in his typical style that Carvalho almost opened the scoring, winning the ball deep before releasing it and continuing his run forward before latching onto a Ballack through ball, and lifting it over Africa XI goalkeeper Richard Kingson, but not with enough power to prevent the goalkeeper retrieving the loose ball.
At the other end Blackman saved from Jay-Jay Okocha, who shortly afterwards unleashed a dipping volley that dropped just over the bar. The Nigerian was also keen to show he had retained his box of tricks despite his retirement.
The game was being played in a fantastic spirit, at far from a Premier League pace. There were laughs all round when former Bayern Munich defender Samuel Kuffour dived into a challenge with Florent Malouda, who was sharp enough to jump out of the way.
The Africans were given a harsh penalty by a referee far too far away to see Blackman win the ball at Emmanuel Adebayor's feet, but, on home soil, they were always likely to get the breaks.
Essien stepped up, and calmly sent the young goalkeeper the wrong way, sending thousands of locals into rapture.
The World XI quickly levelled when French international team-mates Malouda and Djibril Cisse linked up, the latter slotting low into the bottom corner, but the Africans were almost immediately back in front when Blackman was lobbed from just outside the area.
Emmanuel Adebayor then walked the ball around the goalkeeper after a World defensive mix-up, but allowed Okocha to finish as the hosts took control with a third before the break.
After half-time Cisse saw his chip drop just over and Lomana Lua-Lua hit the side netting as the visitors tried to find a way back into the game.
Malouda was chopped by Geremi in another comical incident, before Adebayor slammed a shot against the crossbar after some fine footwork inside the box.
The World side did pull one back through Danish forward Thomas Dalgaard, who shot powerfully into the bottom corner after beating the offside trap, but the comeback was once again short-lived.
Harminu Dramani had only been on as a sub briefly, but he soon made an impact, turning his man and smashing low beyond Blackman to regain a two-goal advantage.
That was the way it would end, fittingly, with an African victory on a tremendous afternoon for the continent.