Goal/GettyGhana-Nigeria Combined XI
Ahead of this week’s World Cup qualifying double header between Nigeria and Ghana, GOAL Africa are picking our dream combined XI between these two West African heavyweights.
Both the Super Eagles and the Black Stars have storied histories in continental and global competition, and our shortlist for this combined Dream Team was overflowing with elite African talent.
However, only eleven stars can make the cut between these two West African giants, which of these two Chelsea greats would make the cut?
Despite being a part of an excellent Ghanaian generation, Essien only featured in three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments—largely a consequence of the injury problems that undermined his career.
While he reached the final in 2010, the Black Stars ultimately fell short at the hands of Egypt. Mikel went one further as part of Stephen Keshi’s fine side, and got his hands on the big one in 2013.
The Nigerian also went on to reach four Afcon semis during his international career, most recently finishing third in 2019.
He missed out on three editions between 2012 and 2017, but did feature in three World Cups, reaching the Last 16 at Brazil 2014.
While Essien was present for Ghana’s debut display and their run to the Last 16 in 2006, injury denied him a place in the team that reached the quarters four years later.
These two are immensely decorated at club level, with the majority of their silverware coming ast part of Chelsea’s magnificent flurry of successes under the likes of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Di Matteo.
Essien won two Premier League winner’s medals at Chelsea, and was an unused substitute in the 2012 Champions League final, where Mikel did feature in the victory over Bayern Munich.
The pair each won three FA Cups with Chelsea, although while the Nigerian was still around for the Europa League triumph of 2013—by which point Essien had departed—The Bison did win two Ligue 1 titles as part of a magnificent Olympique Lyonnais side.
Essien comfortably outclasses Mikel here, probably testament to him being seen as a far more dynamic and impactful player during his peak years.
The midfield powerhouse never won Caf’s African Footballer of the Year award—among the finest continental stars not to do so—although he did clinch the BBC version of the prize.
He did make Caf’s podium on five occasions though, and indeed, no one has finished in third place more times than the Ghana star.
The midfielder was Ligue 1 Player of the Year for 2005, only the third African player after Ali Benarbia and Didier Drogba to win the award, and was named in Caf’s Team of the Year on four occasions.
Mikel was never really in contention for these kinds of honours during his senior career, having won plenty of individual accolades as a youngster, for both Chelsea and at the Fifa World Youth Championship.
He twice made the Nations Cup Team of the Tournament, once finished runner-up in the African Player of the Year award, and twice made Caf’s Team of the Year.
Did Mikel deserve more individual accolades during his career?
In his prime, before injury struck, Essien was a complete central midfielder, and offered a level of performance that Mikel could not match.
He could tackle, he could drive forward with the ball at his feet, he could pass, and, on occasion, would weight in with a goal or two.
His strength, energy and determination were all key attributes, and Essien was intelligent enough, and versatile enough, to be drafted into a right-back role when required.
The Bison was twice signed by Jose Mourinho, who he refers to as Daddy, and could have had an even higher score here had injury not intervened.
While Mikel once threatened to become Nigeria’s next great midfield playmaker, he ultimately ended up being viewed as a consistent and dependable—if somewhat limited—water-carrier in midfield.
11 years of service and 250 Premier League games tells the story of a player who held his own at the highest level, only once (in 2014-15) making fewer than 22 appearances in a season under the likes of Mourinho, Ancelotti and Guus Hiddink.
He was comfortable playing against the very best in the business end of the Champions League, and also flexed his muscles more offensively while in action for the Super Eagles.
Who makes the cut?
It’s another tight contest with both of these midfielders.
The Nigeria midfielder enjoyed more international success with the Super Eagles than Essien did with Ghana—although that would have been different had The Bison not suffered from such devastating injuries at such crucial moments—although that’s his only ‘victory’ of the four categories.
Essien’s quality at his peak, the edge he gets from his pre-Chelsea successes with Olympique Lyonnais, and his greater individual recognition during his career, sends him through to the Last Eight.