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Wednesday, Feb 20th

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Michael Essien out of FIFA World Cup

Ghana's World Cup chances have been dealt a huge blow as their inspirational captain, Michael Essien was ruled out of the tournament following his failure to recover from a long term knee injury. He is the second Captain after Michael Ballack to miss out the chance to play in South Africa 2010. Ironically Ballack's team Germany are in the same group as Ghana, the 'Curse of the Group D' striking again.

Ghana Football Association issued a statement yesterday which said, "An evaluation by a combined team of medical experts from the Ghana Football Association and Chelsea Football Club revealed that Essien will not make full recovery until the end of July. The Ghana Football Association wishes him full recovery and a quick return to football action." Chelsea added: "Complications arising from the surgery have meant Michael's recovery has been slower than expected."

Essien will face a race against time to be fit to start of Chelsea's title defence in August.


International Friendlies Thursday Wrap: Danes, Hosts and Honduras all set for FIFA World Cup

South Africa, Denmark and Honduras were the only three World Cup finalists in action on a slow Thursday night. The Bafana Banfana and Danes hosted their respective clashes against Columbia and Senegal while Honduras took on Belarus in Austria in front of a rather modest crowd. Though all 3 of our finalists aren't expected to pull off too much of an upset, they still impressed last night and look in good condition for the 11th June showpiece.

South Africa 2 - 1 Colombia

Carlos Alberto Perreira's South African team defeated Colombia last night in Johannesburg thanks to two penalties awarded to them either side of half time. Teko Modise gave the hosts the lead in the 17th minute. But Colombian midfielder Giovanni Moreno equalized also from the spot  within the next 5 minutes. The South Africans got their second penalty of the night in the 58th minute and this time Mamelodi Sundowns strikers Katlego Mphela slotted it past Colombian goal keeper David Ospina to give the Bafana Bafana a deserved victory.


International Friendlies Wednesday Wrap: Les Blues and Oranje stutter past their Opponents

The World of international friendlies got incredibly exciting on Wednesday night with some of world football's top guns taking to the field for their final preparations for the upcoming FIFA World Cup finals. Five of the thirty two teams in South Africa were in action, with the Netherlands pitting wits against Mexico in the only match which featured two sides with a ticket to South Africa. All 4 matches saw wins, though a couple of the big guns did not have things completely their own way.

Netherlands 2 - 1 Mexico

robin_van_persie.jpgA brace from Robin van Persie in the first half won the game for the Oranje against Mexico, who were playing their second friendly in two days. El Tri were coming off the back of a 3-1 defeat to the English and this was another defeat from a European giant would not have helped their confidence one bit. Manchester United summer signing Javier Hernandez pulled one back for Mexico in the 75th minute but it was too little too late. The Dutch have a busy few days ahead of them as they take on the Ghanaians and Hungary before their World Cup campaign kicks off while Mexico will hope to return to winning ways when they meet Gambia, before a clash with defending champs Italy in their last pre-World Cup friendly.


FIFA World Rankings: No change at the top before the World Cup

Only about 20 friendly matches were played worldwide in the last few weeks. Accordingly, there were only minor changes to the latest edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the last to be published before the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. The head-to-head battle for top spot between leaders Brazil and European champions Spain continues, and both have a clear lead over the chasing pack of Portugal, Netherlands and Italy. Trailing even further behind, after Germany, Argentina, England and France, are two teams not participating in the World Cup - Croatia and Russia - who are likely to lose even more ground after the tournament.

Meanwhile, hosts South Africa have received a boost, winning not only two friendly matches, but also gaining seven places in the ranking (83rd, up 7), which is more than any other team. The only other teams to climb five or more places were Oman (91st, up 6) and Estonia (99th, up 5). In the top 100, Burkina Faso (48th, up 4) and Montenegro (64th, up 1) are currently in their highest-ever position since the World Ranking was introduced.


International Friendlies Tuesday Wrap: All 6 World Cup Finalists fail to win

rigobert_song.jpgSix of the thirty two FIFA World Cup finalits were engaged in friendlies last night in preparation for the 11th June show piece. The United States, Cameroon, Nigeria, North Korea, Greece and Paraguay all attempted to assure themselves and the world that they are in top notch shape going into the World Cup. The results though didn't show them in too good a light as none of the 6 aforementioned elite teams picked up a win last night.

Cameroon was held to a goalless draw by Georgia in a World Cup warm up match in Lienz, Austria. The 'Indomitable Lions' played without their captain and inspirational leader, Samuel Eto'o, who had not yet joined the team after his Champions league triumph with Inter Milan. Freiburg striker Mohamadou Idrissou missed two huge chances for Cameroon, who struggled to find any momentum. Valenciennes Goalkeeper Guy Roland Ndy Assembe, defender Jean Patrick Abouna Ndzana, midfielders Marcel Ndjeng (FC Augsburg) and Patrick Mevoungou all made their debut for the Lions. It was a disappointing result for 19th ranked Cameroon as they were unable to score against a team ranked 100 places below them in the FIFA World rankings. They will face Slovakia, Portugal and Serbia within the next 10 days in a very heavy build up season to the World Cup in South Africa.


International Friendlies Monday Wrap: England stutter but overcome Mexico, Argentina cruise against Canada

Three of the FIFA World Cup's major teams were in action last night as Argentina, Portugal and England played warm up games in order to prepare in the best possible way for the showpiece event beginning on the 11th of June. Two clashes between continental rivals spiced things up. Though friendlies allow you to make a host of substitutions which is against the laws of a competitive game, one can easily determine the preparation level of teams via these games and with 3 of the favourites on show yesterday, we did end up much more enlightened than when we started out.

England 3 - 1 Mexico

england_celebrate.jpgTwo national teams formerly coached by Swede Sven Goran Eriksson took on each other in Wembley stadium in front of almost 90,000 spectators. For both teams the clash was an excellent litmus test and it proved to be quite a close encounter as most would have predicted. The FA Cup winners John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard were rested by Fabio Capello for this game. Lieghton Baines was given a chance in that left back slot while Ledley King made it to the centre of defence in place of Terry in his first appearance for the Three Lions since 2007. James Milner and Michael Carrick started off in midfield while West Ham keeper Robert Green was placed between the sticks.


Spain name Final-23 for FIFA World Cup

iker_casillas_spain.jpgBarclays Premier League sensations Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas have both been included in Spain's final 23-man squad for the World Cup, despite lingering injury concerns. Both Torres (knee) and Fabregas (lower leg) missed out the tail end of their domestic seasons due to their respective injuries and their inclusion is questionable with the FIFA World Cup less than month away. Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque will be hoping the two key components of the rampaging Spanish Armada are fit enough to help them conquer the world in South Africa. He brushed aside injury fears over his squad stating at the press conference, "There is a slight concern but they are here and that's because the reports from the medical staff and physical trainers are positive and we are confident they will be at 100% at the start of the tournament".

Barcelona's no.1 Victor Valdes has been chosen ahead of Villarreal's Diego Lopez and Atletico Madrid's David de Gea as the third-choice keeper in the squad. The move has been commended by the footballing globe as the uncapped keeper has had an extremely successful career with the Catalan giants.


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