By Nana Frimpong
They have made us dream before, and they are making us dream again.
As in the run-up to Germany 2006 - when they formed a fear-inspiring quartet alongside Stephen Appiah and Laryea Kingson - Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari have [all but] secured Ghana a third consecutive World Cup appearance, contributing a terrific double act and a goal by the left-footed player plus an assist from Essien to the 6-1 hammering of Egypt in Kumasi on Tuesday.
At a time that they are supposedly in their twilight of their careers - aged 30 and 29 respectively – the Chelsea and AC Milan midfielders seemed to roll back the years against the sunken Pharaohs, combining brilliantly, especially in the second half to neutralise the talismanic figure of Mohamed Aboutreika and other key Egyptian players. Stretching to help out in defence and attack, they poured heart, soul, and nearly two decades of international experience between them to ensure the return leg in Cairo would be just short of a mere formality.
What makes the pair's efforts even more special is the fact that neither has enjoyed a particularly smooth patch in recent stages of his career. Muntari's temperament has wrought trouble for him in the last few years and incurred the wrath of national team authorities, occasionally to the point of being temporarily barred from the Black Stars' set-up. A typical instance ensured that he was under-utilised during Ghana's last World Cup outing, his only significant contribution at that tournament being a fine strike in the country's ultimately unsuccessful quarter-final date with Uruguay.
Essien’s experiences have been much worse. A series of dreadful injuries have robbed the 'Bison' of his hard-earned first-team place at Chelsea, to the point that he struggles for play-time even under his mentor and current Blues manager Jose Mourinho. His Ghana career has been hampered by similar factors, his injuries keeping him out of the four-time African champions squad for South Africa 2010 and prompting a protracted hiatus that was only arrested prior to the home leg against Zambia last month.
None of those challenges matters anymore, of course, if Tuesday’s showing is anything to go by. Granted, it is not a given that Muntari would not blurt out at the Black Stars coach between now and Brazil 2014, while Essien's woes at Stamford Bridge may yet persist. Nevertheless, there is no doubting their ability to inspire a largely younger generation to World Cup glory in Brazil 2014.
Perhaps - just perhaps - on the back of these two incredibly strong pillars, the west African powerhouse would be empowered to achieve the unheralded for itself and for Africa.
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