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Fit Essien heads to Africa

Chelsea were lifted yesterday when Michael Essien took part in a full session in the snow at the club's training ground, but the midfielder's return to fitness means he will report for international duty with Ghana at the African Cup of Nations and could be away for the rest of the month.

Essien, 27, will be accompanied to Angola by a Chelsea doctor because he has yet to regain full match fitness after tearing a hamstring in a Champions League match against Apoel last month, but he hopes to play some part in the tournament.

He will definitely miss Ghana's opening Group B game against Togo on Monday, but is aiming to be fully fit in time to face his Chelsea team-mate Didier Drogba when his side meet Ivory Coast four days later.

Essien's prolonged absence is compounded by the fact that John Obi Mikel is also in Angola with Nigeria, leaving Ancelotti with a shortage of defensive midfield players.

The Italian is planning to use Juliano Belletti in the holding role in their match against Hull City on Saturday after he came through last weekend's 5-0 FA Cup third-round win over Watford unscathed.

Essien and Belletti were joined in training by Nicolas Anelka, with the France striker likely to be fit to face the Tigers after a hamstring injury.