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Soccer News of Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Source: The Namibian (Windhoek)

Essien Eyes Nations Cup Title


CHELSEA'S star midfielder and Ghana international Michael Essien believes that his country stands a good chance to win the 2008 African Nations Cup, which will be hosted in that country early next year.

Essien said this when he spoke to sports journalists on his recent trip to South Africa, where he was named as the MTN Ambassador in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Namibian's CORRY IHUHUA had an opportunity to talk to him.

During an interview conducted by Ponga Liwewe from SuperSport's Football Africa programme, Essien said he was confident that Ghana would do well at Africa's biggest football competition, but was wary of other nations such as Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Egypt and Cameroon, who would pose a big threat to his country's ambition of winning the title.

Essien (24) said it was too early to say that his country would win the competition, and only time would tell.

"Anyone can go out there and surprise anyone," he said on the chances of the 16 teams that are expected to compete at the showpiece.

"The nation will expect a lot from us to do well at the tournament.

I think we can do something that can make the people happy and I think that will be great," he said.

The shy and slow-talking midfielder, who was signed by Chelsea for 20 million pounds, also said that his team-mates in the Ghanaian national team have been happy for at least the past three years since they played in their first ever World Cup in 2006.

He said the players are also looking forward to doing something positive for their country at the Nations Cup next year.

He has 25 caps for the national team, with five goals to his credit.

He said the World Cup was a great experience, but believes that despite not reaching the final stages, they drew a lot of positive aspects from the tournament.

"The players were a bit nervous against our game against Brazil, but I think we played well but in the end we did not make it.

The people were really happy that we qualified for the World Cup.

That was the biggest thing that could happen to our nation," he said.

Asked about his life at Chelsea, Essien said it was first difficult to move to a new country.

"The language barrier was a problem but I had to take the opportunity which was presented to me.

I was happy to move from France to England, where I actually wanted to play.

Despite that, I think that one of the things that happen in football is for one to keep your head up and work hard for the club.

I want to work hard for Chelsea and to make it a successful club next season," he said.

He said although they did not land the league title, he was happy that they at least won the FA Cup and felt that the players worked hard overall during the season.

About Chelsea's failure to reach the final of the European Champions League, Essien said he still believes they can make it next time, but that can only be determined next season.

Essien has played a total of 64 matches for Chelsea since joining the side in 2005 and has scored seven goals to date.

His contract only expires in 2012 with the English club.

Essien, who this year was named the BBC African Footballer of the Year, was one of the three candidates who were in line for the African Footballer award, which was won by his teammate Didier Drogba.

On this he said that he is not one of the best players in Africa, but thinks that it is best to work hard for his country and would try to help it win the Nations Cup next season.

"I don't think I am the best player in Africa at the moment.

My country comes first as a player and I want it to do well in the future," he said.

Asked about the top-quality facilities in Europe and at his Chelsea club compared to the ones in Africa, Essien said he does not disregard the standard of facilities in Africa.

"We have grown up playing with the current facilities available and I don't think the state of the facilities play a big role.

I think it is the same but it just depends how the team plays in the end," he said.

On his life apart from football, Essien said his routine is to "train, sleep and train some more".

He said he goes out to restaurants with his teammates, but does not like clubbing at all.