Ankle injury forces Essien absence

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The Independent Online

Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien has been omitted from the Ghana squad for this month's African Nations Cup after failing to recover from ankle ligament damage in time.

Essien's participation in the competition had been in doubt after a tackle by West Ham United's Nigel Reo-Coker left him unable to walk after Chelsea's 3-1 victory at Upton Park at the start of the year.

The manager of Chelsea, Jose Mourinho, had insisted the player would not be fit enough to start the tournament which begins in Egypt next week, and coach Ratomir Dujkovic has opted to leave the midfielder to continue his rehabilitation in England.

Essien will not be available for Chelsea's trip to Sunderland tomorrow but striker Carlton Cole is determined to capitalise on Didier Drogba's absence and prove Mourinho was right not to send him out on loan for a third successive season. The England Under-21 international striker could get his second start of the season tomorrow, with Drogba on African Nations Cup duty with the Ivory Coast and Hernan Crespo struggling to overcome a hamstring problem.

After season-long loan spells with Aston Villa and Charlton, Mourinho decided Cole would stand a better chance of improving as a player if he remained at Stamford Bridge and fought for a place in his first team.

Cole celebrated his first-team comeback with the opening goal in Chelsea's 2-1 FA Cup third-round victory over League One Huddersfield last Saturday and believes he must seize the chance to shine during Drogba's expected three-week absence. "It's a great opportunity for me," he said. "It's what I've been waiting for over the last three years and I must take it.

"It's very important for me to get some games under my belt and progress from the Huddersfield game. I can only see it getting better for me.

"I want to get back to when I was scoring a lot of goals. I went on loan to various clubs but didn't do as well as I thought I should."

Cole is hoping he can emulate the example set by captain John Terry and make it through the ranks to become a fixture in the first team. The striker won the golden boot at Chelsea three seasons ago for scoring a combined total of 38 goals in the youth, reserves and first team and insists that, despite the club's big-spending reputation, youngsters can succeed at Stamford Bridge.

"If you are good enough, the manager is always going to take a look at you," said Cole. "We've got some good young talent coming through and there's always hope."

Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur may be forced to attempt a loan deal for the left-back Wayne Bridge instead of a permanent deal because of Chelsea's £7m valuation. Chelsea are determined to recoup what they paid Southampton for the defender two-and-a-half years ago. Spurs could take the England international on loan for him to prove his fitness.

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