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Apr 3, 2008

Socceroos to play Ghana in friendly

The Socceroos will tackle African football power Ghana in Sydney next month in the lead-up to their frantic and decisive cluster of final World Cup qualifying first round matches.

Australia, which should be able to call on several of their overseas-based stars following the completion of most of the top European leagues, will host the free-flowing African team on May 23 at Sydney Football Stadium.

Ghana, currently ranked 15th in the world, 23 places above Australia, have only faced the Socceroos on one previous occasion.

The teams drew 1-1 in London back in November 2006.

Ghana finished third in this year's Africa Cup of Nations, which they hosted.

In their World Cup finals debut in 2006, Ghana emulated Australia's achievement at that tournament of reaching the knockout stage.

After finishing second in their group to eventual tournament winner Italy and eliminating the much-fancied Czech Republic, Ghana lost 3-0 to Brazil in the round of 16.

The Ghanians can call upon several European-based stars, though the match against Australia falls only two days after the Champions League final which could throw into doubt the availability of superstar midfielder Michael Essien, if his club Chelsea make the final in Moscow.

FFA chief executive Ben Buckley was adamant Ghana would field their strongest possible side.

"There's conditions in our agreement that says they have to field a full-strength team, so we're confident that they will have their best available squad," Buckley said.

He was also optimistic Australia would field a strong side, despite the fixture coming just under a week after the final round of the Italian and German domestic competitions.

Buckley agreed Ghana would present a different type of style to what the Socceroos were currently confronting in their Asian World Cup qualifiers.

"They certainly play a different style of football than many of the teams we are playing in the Asian group," Buckley said.

"It's a good chance for some of the players who haven't been regular members of the squad to put their hand up and stake a claim for matches during that crucial four-week period in June.

"But it's also a good chance for the team to come together. They won't have played together or trained together for something like two months, so it's a crucial match and I think (Socceroos coach) Pim (Verbeek) was certainly keen to have hit-out against quality opposition."

Verbeek is currently in Europe catching up with Socceroos players and watching games in which they are involved.

Buckley stressed the Ghana game represented the start of a busy and important period in Australian soccer.

Following the Ghana game, Australia resumes their World Cup schedule at home to Iraq in Brisbane on June 1.

The Socceroos then head to the Middle East for away matches against Iraq in Dubai on June 7, and Qatar in Doha on June 14 before playing their final group fixture against China at Sydney's ANZ Stadium on June 22.

"I don't think football in Australia will have seen so many important matches played in such a short period of time that count for so much," Buckley said.