Ghana 2 Czech Republic 0: Essien crashes Czechs' party

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The Independent Football

Now everyone knows what the fuss was about. When Chelsea paid more than £24m last summer to make Michael Essien Africa's most expensive footballer so much was expected. But the midfielder spent most of last season in the shadow of Frank Lampard as his confidence was badly affected by the furore over his horrible tackle on Liverpool's Dietmar Hamann.

Essien is also shy. Painfully so. Even in the post-match interviews here, after he was presented with the man of the match award, he was quickly ushered away by a Fifa official, who said: "Michael's a great footballer, not a great talker." Essien looked heartily relieved.

There was nothing hesitant about his performance. He, along with Ghana's captain, Stephen Appiah, and the goalscorers Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan, was outstanding against the Czechs.

The sponsor's name has been expunged from the RheinEnergieStadion for the duration of the tournament but there was plenty of voltage on the pitch as the Black Stars, in their first World Cup, recorded their first victory with a brilliantly disciplined, well-organised and creative performance.

Maybe it was because Essien was given more freedom than he is at Chelsea, where with the arrival of Michael Ballack it appears his role may become even more limited. He is set to start next season - if Lampard stays - as understudy to Claude Makelele, which would be a great shame.

For his country he is pivotal and with Appiah he totally dominated the Czechs' five-man midfield. "We felt no fear before the match," Essien later said. And they showed absolutely no fear during it. It was as if the defeat against Italy had liberated them.

The Czechs appeared to have allowed their wonderful victory over the United States to go to their heads. Quite literally. Rumours abound that their players, many of whom are the wrong side of 30 and will not feature in another World Cup, have been partying ever since they won in Gelsenkirchen.

Not that they played badly. Indeed, until Tomas Ujfalusi was dismissed for tripping Matthew Amoah midway through the second half it was a game of attack and counter-attack. Once they were reduced in numbers the Czechs faded and they badly missed their injured strikers Jan Koller and Milan Baros.

They fell behind after just 70 seconds when Appiah picked out Gyan and his instant shot flew past Petr Cech, but they had opportunities of their own before Muntari, finally, beat the Chelsea goalkeeper again with a deft piece of control and a powerful shot. Ghana's goals made a mockery of the wildness of the rest of their finishing.

Maybe it was because they were facing Cech but Muntari, Essien, Appiah and Gyan were wasteful. Gyan, just 20 and playing in Serie B in Italy, occupied the Czech defence single-handedly but also managed to miss a penalty. He was booked for taking it too quickly and, like Muntari, will miss the match against the Americans.

Essien dedicated the result to Africa, while Gyan said: "Hopefully there will be at least one African team in the second round."

The Czechs, too, have lost key players and Cech summed up their mood. "Of course this should not be a way to go out of the tournament," he said.

"It was the worst defeat since I played in my youth team, but we will keep on fighting."

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