In a build-up to the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, Ghana and Mexico will lock horns in an international friendly match at the Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas on March 1. The match will be especially important for the African side, Ghana, who will be making their debut in the finals. Mexico are no strangers to the tournament though they will also see the match as very significant to assess their team ahead of the finals.
One of the best and most celebrated achievements in Ghana football was the qualification of the Black Stars for their first ever World Cup finals. The West African country has enjoyed success within Africa, having won Africa's premier competition – the African Nations Cup – four times but had never been able to make it to the World stage and senior level. With just three months to go, they seem to be taking no chances and are surely aware that friendly matches with other World Cup finalists will help create a conducive atmosphere in the squad ahead of the finals. Unlike their African counterparts, Mexico have a wealth of experience when it comes to playing in the World Cup, as they will be making their thirteenth appearance this summer. They played in the last three World Cup finals in 1994, 1998 and 2002 where they made it to the second round on each occasion. They will be playing against an African team – Angola, who will also be making their debut in the finals - during the group stage of the 2006 finals, so their friendly with Ghana should help familiarize head coach Ricardo Lavolpe about what possibly to expect from their African opponents. FORM GUIDE: (Recent Matches) Ghana: A first test for Ghana was when they appeared in the African Nations in January, making their fifteenth appearance in the finals. Though they were missing three key players in the squad – Michael Essien (Chelsea), Asamoah Gyan (Modena) and Sulley Muntari (Udinese), – the squad disappointingly failed to progress beyond the first rounds, which has now hung speculation over whether Serb coach Ratomir Dujkovic will lead the side to Germany. Though they were placed in the proverbial Group of Death with arch-rivals Nigeria, Senegal and Zimbabwe, they won only one match and lost two of the other group matches, the last being a surprising 1-2 defeat at the hands of minors Zimbabwe. Mexico: Mexico pulled off a 2-1 win over Norway in January but faced the jaws of defeat when they lost 1-0 to South Korea in a friendly match in February, though they fielded a bulk of domestic players in the latter. Even though they failed to impress in that match, the friendly with Ghana on March 1 and another against Paraguay scheduled to be played later this month should help coach Lavolpe assess his squad as he will include foreign-based players instead of focusing much on experimenting with new players within the short time frame ahead of the World Cup finals. TEAM NEWS: Ghana: Coach Dujkovic has named his squad, which consists of mostly foreign-based players, thus dropping a significant number from the African Nations Cup squad. Good news for the Serb coach is the return of key midfielders Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari who failed to make the Nations Cup due to injury. Arminia Bielefeld striker Isaac Boakye has been ruled out of this friendly. Reports indicate that the Germany-based player was unable to secure a U.S. traveling visa from his base in Germany. Other key absentees are goalkeeper Sammy Adjei (whose Israeli club failed to release him) and striker Matthew Amoah. The latter is still recovering from a knee injury he suffered at the African Nations Cup. However, Dujkovic last week called up Elvis Hammond into the squad. The 25-year-old striker who plays for Leicester City in the English first division will be used as a replacement for Isaac Boakye. Germany-based Otto Addo has been recalled into the squad as well as Patrick Agyemang who featured for the squad three years ago. Other inclusions are midfielders Alex Tachie Mensah and Abdul Razak Ibrahim. Mexico: Coach Ricardo Lavolpe has included key players that were excluded in his side's 1-0 loss to South Korea in February. Midfielder Gerardo Torrado, defenders Gonzalo Pineda and Ricardo Osorio have been included in the squad while Adolfo Bautista and Daniel Osorno have been excluded. Among other call-ups are Jared Borgetti of the English Premiership side Bolton and La Liga's Villareal striker Guillermo Franco. 20-year-old Luis Angel Landin who has been consistent playing in the Mexican premier Division for eighteen months was surprisingly given a first call-up for the friendly encounter while striker Francisco Fonseca has been left out of the squad. PLAYER TO WATCH: Ghana: Micheal Essien Following his renewed commitment to the Black Stars after lots of criticism for failing to feature in the Nations Cup – though reports stated that he was recovering from injury – Essien will be hoping to put that behind him and once again display an impressive showing in the midfield when they play against Mexico. Mexico: Jared Borgetti Having scored 35 goals in more than 60 caps for his country, Bolton striker Jared Borgetti will be hoping to continue his goal scoring form for his country. The veteran striker who became the first Mexican player to join the Premiership when he joined Bolton Wanderers from Pachucha in August 2005 will try to use his experience to inspire his side to a victory over the Ghanaians. SQUADS: Ghana: Goalkeepers: Sammy Adjei (Mohadon Sports Ashdod, Israel), George Owu (AshantiGold)Defenders: Issah Ahmed (Randers FC, Denmark), John Mensah (Stade Rennes, France) John Paintsil (Hapoel Tel Aviv, Israel), Emmanuel Pappoe, (Hapoel Kfar Sava, Israel), Samuel Osei Kuffour (AS Roma, Italy), Hans Sarpei (VfL Wolfsburg, Germany)Midfielders: Otto Addo (FC Mainz, Germany), Stephen Appiah (Fenerbache, Turkey), Haminu Dramani (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia & Montenegro), Michael Essien (Chelsea, England), Abdul Razak Ibrahim (Maccabi Netanya, Israel), Sulley Muntari (Udinese, Italy). Strikers: Baba Adamu (Krylya Sovietov Samara, Russia), Patrick Agyemang (Preston North End, England), Alex Tachie Mensah (St Gallen, Switzerland), Baffour Gyan (Dynamo Moscow, Russia). Mexico: Goalkeepers: Oswaldo Sánchez (Guadalajara), Jose de Jesús Corona (UAG)Defenders: Jose Castro (América), Diego Martinez (Guadalajara), Francisco J. Rodríguez (Guadalajara), Ricardo Osorio (Cruz Azul), Joel Huiqui (Cruz Azul), Gonzalo Pineda (Guadalajara), Mario Pérez (Necaxa)Midfielders: Pavel Pardo (América), Antonio Naelson (Toluca), Luis Pérez (Monterrey), Andres Guardado (Atlas), Gerardo Torrado (Cruz Azul)Forwards: Guillermo Franco (Villareal, SPA), Jared Borgetti (Bolton / ENG), Omar Bravo (Guadalajara), Luis Angel Landin (Pachuca) PREDICTION: Both teams will take this match very seriously especially taking into consideration their outings in the last matches and the significance of this friendly match ahead of the World Cup. Ghana coach Dujkovic cannot afford to lose this match as he is already under pressure following the Black Stars' first round exit at the African Nations Cup. Following a 1-0 loss in their last match against South Korea, Mexico coach Lavolpe is also taking this match seriously having called-up foreign-based players. Both sides should happily settle for a draw.Match Prediction: Ghana 1-1 Mexico