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By ESPN Staff

Drobga, Essien and Kanoute vie for African award

KUMASI, Ghana, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba faces competition from Chelsea team mate Michael Essien and Frederic Kanoute in his bid for a second successive African Footballer of the Year award in Lome on Friday.

Drogba's goals kept Chelsea in the Premier League title race last season and also helped them lift the FA Cup, with the Ivorian notably scoring the only goal of the final against Manchester United at Wembley.

His claim for the 2007 award also draws on his role in Chelsea's run to the Champions League semi-finals and his captaincy of Ivory Coast through Nations Cup qualifying.

Ghana's Essien, who finished third in the last two African Footballer of the Year polls, was also a first-team regular for the west London club last season.

But Ghana's lack of competitive matches in 2007, when as hosts for the Nations Cup they played only friendly internationals, could well count again him.

Kanoute was nominated for his role in helping Mali qualify for the finals, beating Togo away in their last group match.

Kanoute's credentials are further strengthened by the victories with his Spanish club Sevilla in the UEFA Cup and domestic King's Cup.

If he won, Kanoute would become the first European-born player to take the award.

Kanoute played for his native France as a junior international before switching international allegiance in 2004 to Mali, his father's country.

The award is voted by the national coaches of the 53 associations of the Confederation of African Football.

The timing of this year's ceremony has drawn criticism and Essien has been refused permission by Ghana to travel the short distance to neighbouring Togo for Friday's ceremony.

Ghana play Nigeria in a quarter-final in Accra on Sunday, while Drogba will lead the Ivorians against Guinea in Sekondi on the same day. Mali were knocked out of the tournament on Tuesday.