Michael Essien

Michael Essien debunks rumors that he contracted Ebola

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According to self-proclaimed “sports journalist” Yury Alkaev, former Chelsea and current AC Milan midfielder Michael Essien has contracted Ebolavirus while on back home in Ghana.

Alkaev quoted Milan spokesman as saying, “It has come to a big shock to everyone involved with the club but we are optimistic for Essien. He is a very strong person and the Ebola has been caught in the early stages. He’s in experts hands so he should be fine”

Don’t worry for Essien though, it’s not true.

After being picked up by the Daily Times Nigeria, the story was debunked by both Essien himself and his club AC Milan on Twitter.

The club also confirmed that the earlier quotes were false and that no interviews had been given to Nigerian media or anyone else.

It’s great news for anyone worried for Essien’s safety, as the virus is incredibly dangerous.

Essien was dropped from the Ghanan national team for this round of AFCON qualifiers by coach Maxwell Konadu. They could only manage a 1-1 draw with Guinea. “At the moment, I haven’t decided what I want to do next in regards to my international career,” Essien told FIFA.com back in late September.

Valencia edges AC Milan, 2-1, to close out preseason

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Valencia ended their preseason nicely by edging Serie A club AC Milan, as manager Nuno Espirito Santo made his debut for Los Che on home grounds.

The La Liga club faced tumult in ownership and finances last year, but with new owner, Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim taking the helm, and new signings Rodrigo, Nicolas Otamendi and Andre Gomes, the stage is solidified for Valencia’s brand new start, and they gave fans reason to cheer on Sunday.

In the 18th minute, the Valencia jumped out to 1-0 lead when 20-year-old Paco Alcacer boomed a 40-yard goal from Cristian Zapata’s off-target pass that landed on his feet.

However, Milan wouldn’t let the Spanish squad have the advantage for more than 10 minutes, when Kesuike Honda pinpointed a free kick score that dipped hard and bounced off the right post.

Rodrigo notched the game-winner in the 38th minute, zipping past two Milan defenders in the box and blasting a left-footer into the bottom of the net.

As is often noticed with preseason contests, the second half began, and there wasn’t that same vitality noticed in both sides during the first 45 minutes.

Alcacer came off for Sofiane Feghouli, and the substitute nearly supplemented his team’s lead, ripping a shot wide from 12 yards in the 68th minute. Milan midfielder Jeremy Menez had a great opportunity just outside the box, but his try couldn’t stay on frame.

Veteran Michael Essien crushed a header on net in the 78th minute, and goalie Yoel came up huge with an spectacular stop to finalize the victory for Valencia, who will open their regular season vs. Sevilla at Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium on Aug. 23.

This was a good win for Valencia, and because this match about a week out from La Liga play, it makes sense to pay more attention to this one than previous preseason games. In May, Sevilla and Valencia clashed in the Europa League semi-finals, and Sevilla advanced, a higher tally of away goals seeing them to the finals on a 3-3 aggregate score.

11 Things From AC Milan’s Training Session in New York

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Summers spent stateside have become de rigueur for Europe’s top clubs. From Arsenal to Liverpool to reigning European champs Real Madrid, it seems as though all of UEFA’s heavy hitters are here in the States. Indeed, the footballing talent pool currently assembled on these shores would give Brazil circa mid-June a serious run for its money.

Now you can add Mario Balotelli and AC Milan to that impressive list.

The Rossoneri touched down at JFK on Wednesday, and shortly afterwards they piled into a bus and drove out to Long Island to partake in a closed-door scrimmage with NASL side, the New York Cosmos.

The scrimmage didn’t wind up taking place — no explanation was given as to why Milan backed out of playing Pele’s former club — but both sides held training sessions that were viewed by the media and a select group of supporters.

Here are 11 takeaways from what was seen at the Cosmos’ training ground on Wednesday.

1. Balotelli’s big here too: Even in doing nothing, Mario Balotelli somehow dominated the proceedings in L.I. He was the last one off the bus when Milan arrived, but drew by far the most applause from the fans outside the locker room. He put forth minimal effort during training, but the assembled media was discussing his every move. He was the last one out of the locker room upon leaving, but the fans waited until the very end just to catch a glimpse of his blonde mohawk. Ever the showman, he lived up to his legend by doing very little. Which is usually the way of cool, no?

2. Gentleman Honda: Attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda was one of two players made available to the media after practice (Sulley Muntari was the other) and despite giving off a cocksure air on the pitch, the Japanese international was a humble gentleman off of it. He answered every question politely and even tried his best to add insight to a difficult question about whether he thinks fellow Japanese international Shinji Kagawa’s future really lies at Manchester United. “He is my friend,” replied Honda. “I (hope) he will play very good at Manchester United. Or maybe he will transfer to another team also, where he can play better.”

3. Muntari talks World Cup exit: Along with Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sulley Muntari was famously sent home from the World Cup early by the Ghanaian football federation. While Muntari didn’t fully disclose why he was sent home, he said that he would tell all when the time was right. “It’s my country. I love my country,” said Muntari, when asked about Brazil. “There are certain things I want to say, but I will say them at the (right) time. So now, I just don’t want to talk about it, but my country’s always going to be my country.”

4. Pippo’s peppy practices: Milan spent most of the training session running an 11-v-11 drill across the width of the field that focused more on shape and distribution out of the back than actual attacking play. New coach Pippo Inzaghi was very hands-on, shouting instructions and chasing the ball throughout, and his involvement infused the drill with plenty of intensity. Hard play was the norm, with a couple of scary collisions taking place as well. After Milan’s lackluster 2013-14, Pippo’s serious approach could bode well for the Rossoneri’s upcoming Serie A campaign.

5. Big Adil: Despite playing in just 18 matches for Milan last season, central defender Adil Rami was easily the most vocal player on the pitch on Wednesday. The French international’s booming voice was heard constantly during practice. He and ex-Chelsea center back Alex were arguably the most impressive backline players during the extended 11-v-11 drill.

6. Dang, Niang: The attacking player who impressed the most during training was 19-year-old French forward M’Baye Niang. The lanky forward has tremendous pace, as well as skill on the ball. He’s one of those players who makes the game look far easier than it really is.

7. Ladies in red (hats): As both clubs are sponsored by Emirates airline, there were six female flight attendants in attendance for the entirety of Wednesday’s training session. Donning their signature tan dress-suits and red hats, they stood in a straight line for the entire two hours. In all honesty, it was a touch curious.

8. Big name missing: Brazilian forward Robinho was not in attendance on Wednesday, and is apparently not touring with the club this summer. Those MLS rumors just might have some credibility, after all.

9. El Staaraway: With his signature dyed mohawk-pompadour hairdo and a sly grin on his face, Stephan El Shaaraway was easily the second-most popular Milan player with the stateside fans. He and Super Mario seem to have the ability to draw attention from supporters as easily as they do rival defenders.

10. Lazy, but Super Mario: Surprising no one, Balotelli was the picture of indifference during the club’s stretching exercises. But when he did put forth the effort to run at a full clip during competitive sprints, it was a sight to behold. It’s just rare to find players his size who can move as gracefully — and as quickly — as he does.

11. Chuffed ex-Chelsea lads: At this point in their careers, one would expect veteran stars Michael Essien and Alex to be indifferent to enthusiastic receptions from autograph-hungry fans. But both players were all smiles and genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves as they signed jerseys and took selfies with the local supporters. It was a bit touching, to be honest. Maybe both players are wise enough to drink these moments in during the latter stages of their impressive careers.

With Ghana less than an hour away, Group G setting up perfectly for US to strike

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As a USMNT fan heading into the vital match with Ghana, things literally could not have gone any better for the United States.

Germany annihilated Portugal 4-0, which I tabbed as an incredibly helpful possibility about three weeks ago.

In that match, Germany held Portugal to zero points, stuck them with an early -4 goal differential, and saw Pepe sent off with a monstrously stupid red card which means he will be suspended for the United States match in Manaus.

In addition, Hugo Almeida and Fabio Coentrao were both injured and likely out for the match against the US, thinning a clearly unmotivated Portugal squad. Now, let me be clear that nobody roots for injuries, but the United States will take small advantages any way can they get them.

Also on the injury front, German defender Mats Hummels limped off the field against Portugal, although manager Joachim Low said it’s just a “blow to the thigh” and likely not that bad.

Of course, none of this means anything if the US can’t successfully pick up three points against Ghana, which kicks off at 6pm ET.  But there’s more on that as well.

The Ghana lineup is without two important pieces – Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng.  According to African journalist Theo Sayki, KPB “isn’t even 60% fit,” an enormous hit for Ghana.  Boateng sliced the United States to pieces in 2010, and it’s big for the US that he’s not able to go.

The United States has plenty of work to do, and all of this is moot if they can’t beat Ghana.  But if they do, pieces are beginning to fall into place that could give USMNT fans a bit more optimism moving forward in Group G.

2014 World Cup Team Preview: Ghana

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Getting to know… Ghana

The Black Stars, four-time continental champions, are one of the most successful teams in African history, with their quarterfinal appearance at the 2010 World Cup matching an the continent’s best finish in FIFA’s quadrennial showcase. Had it not been for a dramatic Luis Suárez hand ball and a penalty miss from Asamoah Gyan, the team would have gotten one step farther, yet in the United States, the nation of Abedi Pele, Samuel Kuffour, Stephen Appiah and Michael Essien is known for only one thing: Knocking the U.S. out of the last two World Cups.

Since their last win over the States in 2010, Ghana has been relatively humbled, finishing fourth at the last two African Cup of Nations tournaments. In World Cup qualifying, however, the Black Stars reasserted their place in Africa’s pecking order. The West African nation will be appearing at its third straight World Cup.

Record in qualifying

Drawn into a qualifying group with Zambia, Lesotho, and Sudan, Ghana lost only one of six games, putting up a +15 goal difference en route to Africa’s playoff round. Drawn against Egypt, Ghana delivered another blow to head coach Bob Bradley, using a 6-1 win in leg one to cruise past the Pharaohs, 7-3 over two legs.

What group are they in? 

From the Ghanaians’ point of view, the Group G’s only reprieve is the United States – a team Ghana’s proven it can beat. Against Germany and Portugal, however, the Black Stars will be heavy underdogs, even if the Seleccao presents a chance to qualify for another knockout round.

Game schedule:

16 June, 18:00, Natal – Ghana vs. United States

22 June, 16:00, Fortaleza – Germany vs. Ghana

26 June, 12:00, Brasilia – Portugal vs. Ghana

Star player: Asamoah Gyan

Ghana has no shortage of name talents, from Milan’s Essien and Sulley Muntari to fellow midfielders André Ayew, Kwadwo Asamoah and Kevin Prince-Boateng. The most consistent presence of the team’s name talents, however, is former Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan. Most famous for missing the 2010 penalty kick that would have put Ghana into the final four, the 28-year-old 39 goals in 78 international appearances makes him the one proven scoring threat in Appiah’s starting lineup.

Skilled, pacey, and intelligent, the Ghanaian captain has scored 100 goals for United Arab Emirates club Al Ain since moving to the Middle East three years ago. For his national team, the long-time lone striker is now being helped up top by Spartak Moscow’s Majeed Waris, whose speed may open up space for his veteran partner.

Manager: Kwesi Appiah

An assistant in 2012 and former coach of Ghana’s U-23 team, the former Black Stars defender took over as head coach in April 2012. Choosing freedom for his players over tactical nuance, the 53-year-old has implemented a basic 4-4-2 to leverage the virtues of his talented core. If Appiah doesn’t revert to a five-man midfield (as he did in a recent friendly against the Netherlands), players like Asamoah, Boateng and Christian Atsu will be given the room to pursuit their opportunities, something that will hopefully present goals for Gyan.

Secret weapon: Mohammed Rabiu

Asamoah, Ayew, Boateng, Essien, and Muntari may not be assured starting spots, but Rabiu, a 24-year-old who plays in Russia with Kuban Krasnodar, looks set to be Appiah’s destroyer. A member of the Ghana team that won the 2009 U-20 World Cup, Rabiu’s energy in front of the defense will be important in protecting the weakest part of the Black Stars’ team. Tall, lanky, and with only 16 games of international experience, the former Evian midfielder will anchor whatever midfield Appiah decides to build around him.

Prediction: Like the U.S., Ghana is capable of both making the knockout round or finishing at the bottom of its group. Given a back four where pursuit is often more prominent than prudence, it’s difficult to see the Black Stars claiming the two results they’ll need to make it out of Group G.