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23.03.2007 Football News

How Will The Stars Fare? • Without Appiah, Essien

How Will The Stars Fare? • Without Appiah, Essien

France-based captain Michael Helegbe is expected to be handed the huge responsibility of playing the inspirtional role of injured Black Stars captain Stephen Appiah in tomorrow's international friendly with Austria in Graz.

Black Stars coach Claude Le Roy is a great admirer of Helegbe, and following the late withdrawal of Appiah and Michael Essien from the Stars' two friendlies, there are strong hints that the French coach will assign Appiah's role to the talented Black Meteors captain while the Frenchman looks for a fitting replacement for the combative Chelsea midfielder.

Sceptics fear that the absence of the two star performers has robbed the Stars team of its heart and soul and could leave the team weakened and exposed, particularly in next Tuesday's clash with five times world champions, Brazil, in Solna in the Swedish capital, Stockholm.

Following the withdrawal of the team's two most influential players, Le Roy handed late invitations to Norway-based midfielder Anthony Annan and Bernard Yao Kumordzi of Greek side Egaleo, both members of the Meteors, to fill the vacuum created.

Tomorrow's game against Austria, who are preparing to host next year's European Championship, will afford Ghana's technical handlers an opportunity to experiment with other players available in the 20-man squad which assembled in Stockholm yesterday.

Helegbe may not wield the experience and commanding influence of Appiah, but on a good day the Guingamp player can be as creative and intelligent as the Fenerbahce star, with an ability to operate deep in midfield and play the role of an auxiliary striker in different positions.

The challenge for the Stars coach, however, is to find a suitable replacement for Essien whose drive and combativeness will be missed in the two games.

Nonetheless, PSV Eindhoven's Eric Addo looks the most suitable substitute in the holding role, just as he did during Ghana's World Cup campaign in Germany, and could partner Udinese's hard-tackling Sulley Muntari in the Stars engine room.

In Ghana's 4-1 demolition of Nigeria in London last month, Laryea Kingson turned on the style in a man-of-the-match display, and following his impressive form in Scotland recently the Heart of Midlothian star will be expected to raise his game and run the show alongside Haminu Draman from the flanks.

Attacking options present no such headache for the coach who should maintain the partnership of Asamoah Gyan and Nottingham Forrest's Junior Agogo who scored a goal in each of Ghana's last two games ahead of Peter Ofori-Quaye, Derek Boateng and Alex Tachie-Menson.

Both Austria and Brazil will be at full strength against Ghana. The Austrian team are currently camped in the town of Stegersbach for their first ever clash with Ghana and their squad includes such players as Ferdinand Feldhofer, Thomas Prager, Andreas Ivanschitz and Sanel Kuljic.

Brazil will be without veteran striker Ronaldo and goalkeeper Dida but have called up uncapped 19-year-old goalkeeper Cassio to join most of the players who masterminded the 3-0 rout of the Black Stars at last year's World Cup in Germany.