Chief writer Ed Dove picks an African dream team of potential 2014 World Cup stars without any Ghanaian.
Five African teams will represent the continent in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup next summer.
Among these sides are a number of players capable of stealing the show; the draw has given several nations a realistic chance of progressing to the knock-out rounds, perhaps one or two of these figures will be contesting the business end of the world’s greatest tournament.
Goalkeeper: Vincent Enyeama
Vincent Enyeama is continuing a fine tradition of African goalkeepers who prove the sceptics wrong.
The supposed lineage of hapless sub-Saharan stoppers has existed for decades, but the likes of Enyeama, Kossi Agassa and recently, Charles Itandje, are contributing to a change in perception.
Enyeama is the pick of the bunch. The Nigerian ‘keeper delivered a series of masterful performances in South Africa to bring the Cup of Nations title home. As well as being a study barrier, he also proved himself to be a leader and a fine organiser.
More recently, his form for Lille has been exceptional, particularly considering he spent last term on loan. Unfortunately, he failed to break Gaetan Huard’s record for consecutive Ligue 1 clean sheets, but his 11-match run without conceding has reminded the world of his enduring class.
Right-Back: Serge Aurier
Having watched Serge Aurier star for Toulouse in the French top flight, it is no wonder Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has been keeping tabs on the right-back according to the Daily Express’ James Dickenson. Aurier could well emerge as the natural successor to Bakary Sagna.
At international level, he has already usurped one former Arsenal star.
In taking over from Emmanuel Eboue, Aurier became the first of the new crop of Elephants players to cement a regular starting berth. The Galatasaray man, on the other hand, became the first of the Golden Generation to fall.
Centre-Back: Joel Matip
Cameroonian defender Joel Matip surely surely every quality that is desired in a modern centre-back.
At German side Schalke, he has demonstrated both the impressive build and strength needed to nullify threats in this position; however, he has also looked comfortable on the ball, composed in possession and with enough vision to begin moves from the heart of the defence.
He is a stylish player and has occasionally looked the part in the Bundesliga.
Occasionally, however, is perhaps the operative work. As is often the case with many young players, Matip also has his dark days.
Considering these lapses, he may struggle to hold down a spot in an Indomitable Lions side flush with accomplished defenders. However, if he can find a place for himself in Brazil, he may just offer the element of refinement that can help Cameroon escape from the group stage.
Centre-Back: Godfrey Oboabona
Having given a good account of himself throughout 2012, Godfrey Oboabona took his game to another level in 2013.
He was given the opportunity to start for Nigeria at the Cup of Nations and didn’t disappoint. Alongside Kenneth Omeruo he formed a young and inexperienced, yet remarkably assured, centre-back pairing that soon banished any questions over the peripheral role of previous stalwart Joseph Yobo.
Oboabona’s finest showing came in the quarter-final against much-fancied Cote d’Ivoire. Unfazed by the occasion and clearly not nervous about the prospect of marshalling Didier Drogba, the defender gave a performance that belied his slender years.
The former Chelsea man delivered a muted performance, and Oboabona prompted people to begin to ask where he stood in the Super Eagles’ list of fine central defenders.
Left-Back: Benoit Assou-Ekotto
It is simplistic, of course, to say that Andre Villas-Boas would have kept his job had he not let his personal concerns with certain players get in the way of the greater good. There is, however, a case to be made here.
Assou-Ekotto, for example, was sent on loan to Q.P.R., a move that left Spurs understaffed at left-back. This forced the club’s best central defender, Jan Vertonghen, to operate out of position on the flank.
Would the club have suffered such crushing defeats against Manchester City and Liverpool had Vertonghen and Assou-Ekotto been lining up at centre-back and left-back, respectively?
Amidst all that has gone on, it is been forgotten just how good a player BAE had become at White Hart Lane. Certainly, there were the occasional lapses in concentration or the panicked moments when the Cameroon star would try one twirl too many.
However, he is a composed defender who can offer an effective attacking outlet on the left-hand side. With the Indomitable Lions short of offensive inspiration, Disco Benny may have a big part to play during next summer’s sojourn to Brazil.
Midfielder: Yaya Toure
I sense that Yaya Toure could be on the brink of a big year.
2013 proved disappointing for the big Ivorian; Manchester City missed out on a whole swathe of domestic honours, and the Elephants limped out of the Cup of Nations having never truly found their verve and rhythm. His performances were rarely terrible, but he struggled to influence contests as consistently as he had done in 2011-12!
However, his midfield partnership with Fernandinho appears to be maturing before the eyes of Manchester City fans, and the Citizens are currently in a good position both in the Premier League and the Champions League.
The Golden Generation of the Cote d’Ivoire have finally received a World Cup series from which they can realistically advance, Group C provides Toure & Co. with a fine opportunity to thrive in the international arena.
Midfielder: John Obi Mikel
At the Cup of Nations, he looked imperious, majestically dominating the heart of the park for Nigeria and playing the passes that saw the Super Eagles conquer a continent.
Don’t be surprised to see him continue in this vein in Brazil. He is the emotional heartbeat and the inspirational figure in this youthful Nigeria elect, having missed the 2010 tournament, the time is right for the Chelsea man to make his mark on the world stage.
Midfielder: Ogenyi Onazi
Few players have impressed as much as Ogenyi Onazi over the last 12 months.
The young defensive midfielder began the year as a squad player during the Cup of Nations but was soon brought into the first team by Stephen Keshi as the Nigerian coach experimented with different formulae. His addition brought both defensive and offensive qualities to the Super Eagles.
Onazi’s mature positioning and assertive interceptions protected the back four and the inexperienced pairing of Kenneth Omeruo and Godfrey Oboabona. He also had an offensive benefit, acting as the energy and the endeavour for the lethargic John Obi Mikel.
Onazi did the “dog work,” while Mikel was allowed to spray passes to his heart’s content.
It is fascinating to see where Onazi, who turned 21 on Christmas Day, goes from here. The World Cup could be a perfect stage upon which he can demonstrate his talents.
It has been a season of two halves for Gervinho, hinging, completely, on his transfer from Arsenal to Roma. A switch of capitals, of countries and of leagues has worked wonders, and the forward has rediscovered the fine form of his early career.
Certainly, his returning confidence has completely altered the way he approaches fixtures and runs with the ball, but it is also important to credit Rudi Garcia. Manager and player have rekindled the chemistry they enjoyed together at Lille and have both contributed to Roma’s excellent start to the Serie A season.
If Gervinho can retain his self-confidence and his momentum, then he could prove to be a powerful weapon for the Cote d’Ivoire in Group C.
Forward: Emmanuel Emenike
While Jonathan Pitroipa won the Cup of Nations Best Player award, it was Emmanuel Emenike who took home the Golden Boot.
The striker scored four goals in six outings, including goals against Burkina Faso and Zambia in the group stage and Mali and Cote d’Ivoire in the latter rounds. He missed the final, through injury, but saw his reputation skyrocket for his overall contribution.
Other pertinent goals followed throughout the year. The most important, perhaps, were the brace scored against Ethiopia in the World Cup Qualifying play-off in Addis Ababa. The pair, a penalty and an awesomely struck thunderbolt, overturned the home side’s deficit, silenced the buoyant locals and sent the Super Eagles on their way to Brazil.
Don’t be surprised to see another elite tournament performance next summer.
Forward: Ahmed Musa
There is every chance that Ahmed Musa could steal the show in Brazil. The forward’s career trajectory steepened during 2013 and looks on course for a big year.
He began it as an impact substitute during the Cup of Nations, where he managed to score a goal in the demolition of Mali. He was afforded much more influence at the Confederations Cup in the summer and proved himself to be a menacing threat, particularly on the counter-attack.
He also demonstrated an ability to win games and score crucial goals, notably in the World Cup qualifier against Kenya.
Whether he plays out wide or as a second striker, from the bench or from the start, expect great things of Musa this summer.