Essien and Ghana carry Africa's hopes of advancing

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The Independent Football

The United States coach Bruce Arena has warned that Chelsea's midfielder, Michael Essien, "could make the difference" in today's decisive clash against Ghana here.

"He is one of the best players of the tournament," Arena said. "He works both on offence and defence, passes a lot and sets up goals. He makes the difference between a good team and a very good team."

Ghana pulled off a major surprise last Saturday when they beat the Czech Republic 2-0, and their striker, Otto Addo, said: "It is not just about Ghana. All of Africa has high hopes in us because we want a sixth starting spot for the World Cup in four years."

Addo believes his team can go a long way. "If we advance, a lot of things will be possible, even the semi-finals. We played well against the Czechs but we can still play much better."

Ghana need a win to be sure of qualification, though a draw would be enough for the Black Stars if Italy beat the Czech Republic at the same time. With Angola, Togo and Ivory Coast already out of contention in their groups, Ghana and Tunisia are the only African representatives still able to advance to the next round.

And Ghana's midfielder, Stephen Appiah, said the Black Stars were determined to make their mark. "Before coming to Germany I said we are not going to win the tournament but we are here to make a name for ourselves," he said. "We have nothing to lose and this is like a dream coming true."

Ghana will be without Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari, who serve one-game bans after picking up their second yellow cards last Saturday. Both scoredin the victory over the Czechs, but their coach, Ratomir Dujkovic, believes this will not hinder his side.

"We have two players suspended but we have players who are able to replace them," he said. "Anyhow I am optimistic and I still believe the Black Stars can reach the semi-finals."

Dujkovic does not intend to receive score updates from the clash between the group leaders, Italy, and the Czechs in Hamburg. He said: "Of course we think about the match between Italy and the Czech Republic but if the Black Stars continue to play at this level I am not worried."

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