Ghana call on Essien to quell Mexicans

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The Independent Online

Several players from the Premier League will be in action when Ghana meet Mexico at Craven Cottage tonight.

Leading the African nation's challenge will be midfielder Michael Essien, fresh from helping Chelsea surge back into the title race with a 2-1 win over Arsenal on Sunday. Portsmouth's highly-rated midfielder Sulley Muntari will also be paraded, while West Ham defender John Pantsil and Birmingham goalkeeper Richard Kingson are included in the squad.

Ghana hosted this year's African Nations Cup – they have won the competition on four occasions – but finished in third place.

Tonight's friendly is their first match since beating Ivory Coast in the play-off for third place. It is also their last encounter before qualification for the 2010 World Cup begins against Libya in Kumasi on 3 June.

The Ghana coach Claude Le Roy said: "There is no longer such a term as friendly in our dictionary. We consider every game very important and if you know Mexico's worth and strength, then you would not want to say it is just another friendly game."

Mexico have 10 European-based players in their squad but Manchester City striker Nery Castillo is the only representative from the Premier League. The Barcelona teenager Giovani dos Santos, Arsenal's Carlos Vela – on loan at Spain's Osasuna – and Guillermo Franco of Villarreal are expected to involved.

The Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez is under pressure after failing to guide the Under-23s to this year's Olympic Games and his future could be decided after tonight's match.

The teams have met once before, with Mexico winning 1-0 in 2006.

Elsewhere, Spain should try to take a leaf out of Italy's book if they want to cast aside their reputation as perennial underachievers at major tournaments, according to the national team coach Luis Aragones.

"I read a player saying that Spain lack competitiveness and that is something I have been saying for some time now," Aragones said on the eve of his side's friendly against the world champions in Elche. "There have been times when we've had a team that should have gone further, but we haven't done it.

"Italy have some very good players, physically they are very strong, they are intelligent and they know how to compete."

Aragones said Spain could learn a lot from the attitude of Italian players like Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso. "He [Gattuso] is a great player and always performs. He and others in the team can teach us a lot about what it means to compete and sacrifice yourself in a game."

This will be Spain's final match before Aragones announces his squad for Euro 2008, where his team are in Group D with Greece, Russia and Sweden. Italy are warming up for their Group C campaign in which they face World Cup runners-up France, Netherlands and Romania.

Spain's only triumph in a major international tournament came when they won the European Championship in 1964, defeating the Soviet Union 2-1 in Madrid.

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