TWO KEY players of the Black Stars, were yesterday, booked when they featured for their respective clubs, after recovering from injuries.
Sulley Ali Muntari and Michael Essien missed the on-going CAN 2006 finals, in view of varying degrees of injuries.
Udinese's Sulley Ali Muntari was sent-off in a Serie A battle against Juventus, while Michael Essien of Chelsea, received a yellow card in a Premiership match against Liverpool.
In Italy, Juventus maintained its eight-point lead, at the top of Serie A, after a, 1-0, home win over Udinese.
Alessandro Del Piero's second-half strike, kept the champion, on co! urse, to defend the scudetto, after Udinese was forced to play the majority of the match, with ten men.
Sulley Muntari was sent off, for a second bookable offence, eight minutes, before the break.
Also, in England, Chelsea's quality of finishing, proved the difference, as it beat rival, Liverpool, to move 15 points, clear at the top of the Premiership. William Gallas put Chelsea ahead, when he diverted in a close range shot, after Ricardo Carvalho's brave header.
Liverpool created some promising openings, but failed to take them. Hernan Crespo drove in an angled shot, to seal Chelsea's win, before Reds! keeper, Jose Reina, was red-carded, for shoving Arjen Robben, in the face. The two teams were meeting for the fourth time, this season, and predictably, the familiarity resulted in the usual cagey start.
But, it was Liverpool, which wrested the early superiority of the game, after creating the first chance.
Steven Gerrard whipped in a corner to the near post, where the unmarked Jamie Carragher, failed to catch his header properly, from six yards, and the home defence cleared.
Liverpool was troubling the Chelsea defence with its balls into the box, and Sami Hyypia headed wide, from another corner, while Peter Crouch nodded over, from a John Arne Riise cross.
And, after Crouch headed over again, when Hyypia nodded a free-kick across goal, Chelsea took advantage of its visitors' generosity.
Ironically, the goal came from Chelsea's first corner, with Gallas swivelling to turn Carvalho's header into the Reds' goal.
Joe Cole should have done better than put an angled drive into the side-netting, after dispossessing Stephen Warnock.
Liverpool was, once more, left breathing a sigh of relief, after Reina spilled John Terry's header, with Crespo being ruled offside, after sliding in a loose ball.
The visitors pressed for an equaliser, with Gerrard seeing his well-struck drive parried, by keeper Petr Cech.
But, any hopes the Reds had of levelling, were all, but ended, when Warnock played Crespo on side, and lashed in an angled drive. Liverpool's misery was compounded, when Reina was sent-off for a push on Robben.
Robben seemed to make more of the incident, than appeared necessary, as he fell to the ground, before a stormy clash between both sets of players. But, it did not affect Chelsea, as it eased to its 50th Premiership win, under manager, Jose Mourinho.
... And Essien Sulks
CHELSEA'S MID-FIELDER, Michael Essien, said, he was disappointed at having to miss the African Cup of Nations, for Ghana's Black Stars.
The 23-year-old was part of the original squad, but was subsequently, ruled out with an ankle problem two weeks before the start of the tournament.
“The arrangement was to join the team, but unfortunately, I got injured, so everything changed,” Essien told BBC World Service's Fast Track programme. Ghana failed to make it past the group stages, at the Cup of Nations. The Stars lost 0-1 to Nigeria, in their opening game, but beat Senegal in the second, before surprisingly succumbing to Zimbabwe, in their must-win final match.
“I think they did their best, but it just wasn't enough,” added the Chelsea star.
“I watched the first game against Nigeria. They did their best, but unfortunately lost.
“In the second match, we did very well, and in the last, we were just unlucky.” Some supporters have called for the resignation of national team coach, Ratomir Dujkovic, but Essien believes they should be patient.
“I know the Ghanaians are frustrated, but he was the first-ever coach to guide Ghana to the World Cup finals. There were also, three key players, who were missing from the Cup of Nations squad,” he said.
Looking ahead to Germany 2006, the mid-fielder said, he was eager to make amends for missing the Cup of Nations.
“I need to prepare myself for! the World Cup,” he said.
“I have to be ready for it, and I'm willing to play in the friendlies, leading up to the event.”