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Injured Essien ruled out of Ghana's World Cup squad

Chelsea's Michael Essien has been ruled out of the World Cup finals after failing to recover from a knee injury, dealing a large blow to Ghana's hopes of getting past the group stage in South Africa.

In a statement the Ghanaian Football Association 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 a full recovery until the end of July."

The midfielder has been recovering from a knee injury picked up at the African Cup of Nations in January. He played only 45 minutes at the tournament in Angola after suffering a hamstring injury in the Champions League last November.

Only last week the Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac described Essien as the leader and engine room of his team. The 27-year-old is hugely popular in Ghana and his image appears on posters all over the country. He has scored seven times in 50 appearances for his country and played at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Essien hinted several weeks ago he might not be fit for the tournament. "The last thing I want is to rush back and cause more problems down the line. If I make it for the World Cup then great – if not, I have my whole career ahead of me," he said.

Ghana are still unsure of the fitness of two other key players, Stephen Appiah and John Mensah, and even with a fully-fit squad faced a tough battle to qualify from Group D. They open their World Cup campaign against Serbia on 13 June, then face Australia before finishing off against Germany.