Ghana scored three second-half goals in Michael Essien's first international appearance in over a year to beat 10-man Republic of Congo 3-1 in their 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifier on Friday.

Isaac Vorsah and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu grabbed their first international goals, and Prince Tagoe struck in between, to put Ghana three points clear at the top of qualifying Group I. Second-placed Sudan is away at Swaziland on Sunday.

Playing for Ghana for the first time since last year's African Cup of Nations tournament, Chelsea midfielder Essien was substituted midway through the second half at Baba Yara Stadium - soon after Ghana had gone 2-0 ahead.

Matt Moussilou scored the visitors' only goal.

Congo had key defender Bruce Abdoulaye sent off in the 48th and the visitors went behind just four minutes later through Vorsah's back-post header from a corner.

Prince Tagoe made it 2-0 in the 69th with another header before Moussilou pulled one back for Congo in the 76th, benefiting from a rebound after an error from Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson.

But Agyemang-Badu hit his first goal for Ghana from long range a minute later to wrap up the win for the hosts in Kumasi. Ghana is now unbeaten in four qualifying games.

''It was a great second half performance,'' Ghana coach Goran Stevanovic said. ''I am satisfied. I knew it was not going to be easy, Congo are tough.''