Essien and Co.: This Week's Best and Worst of Africa in the Champions League

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Essien and Co.: This Week's Best and Worst of Africa in the Champions League
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Essien—Difficulties in Dortmund

Perhaps the standout results of the mid-week games came in Group D. Two clubs who consider themselves firmly among Europe’s most influential, Real Madrid and Manchester City, succumbed to Borussia Dortmund and Ajax respectively. Several Africans were on show across these two games, although unfortunately for keen observers of the continent’s talents, few impressed.

The biggest loser was surely Michael Essien. Whilst the Bison proved himself to be a versatile player under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, regularly starring at right-back, his versatility clearly doesn’t extend to left-back—where last night he was horribly caught out. With a whole raft of full-backs, including Alvaro Arbeloa, Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao all absent, Essien was called up to step in. Obviously, the German champions provided a stern task.

Against many teams, such a dynamic player would probably be able to "get by" playing as one weak link in an otherwise sturdy defence, but not against the whirlwind of attacking swirl that is the Dortmund attack. The two youngsters, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze, opted to double up against Essien, and the result was Dortmund dominance down that flank. With Madrid hemorrhaging control in this position, midfielders Modric and Alonso were drawn across to protect the Ghanaian, eventually leading to greater space for Dortmund to operate in the middle of the park.

 

Perhaps it wasn’t totally his fault, but Essien truly had a game to forget at the Westfalenstadion.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Mikel—Swarmed by Shakhtar

In the Ukraine, another of Europe’s dominant sides came unstuck as holders Chelsea were bested by Shakhtar. The sole African on show was Nigerian holding player John Obi Mikel, but the towering midfielder had an uncomfortable evening, as the Miners’ rapid, fluid approach swarmed Chelsea’s defence and left the Pensioners of West London facing a troubling immediate future in the Champions League.

Mikel’s countryman, Ideye Brown, had a more successful evening, equalising emphatically against Porto, before his side Dynamo Kiev were eventually undone by Colombian Jackson Martinez.

Two of the continent’s golden sons also impressed in Celtic’s defiant defeat at the hands of Barcelona at the Nou Camp; Kenyan Victor Wanyama and Nigerian Efe Ambrose were both on hand to thwart the endless waves of Barca forwards—that was, of course, until Jordi Alba’s late, late winner.

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