African Cup of Nations ‘dream team’
From a player stuck in the obscurity of the French second division to one from a collection of millionaires at Champions League winners Chelsea, Reuters’ selection of a ‘dream team’ for the African Nations Cup reflects the wide diversity of the players who competed at the finals in South Africa over the last three weeks:
Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria): The Nigerian never looked pressured and had an error-free tournament in contrast to some of the calamitous goalkeeping seen in South Africa. With more than a decade’s experience in the national side, Enyeama proved a steely influence on his younger teammates. His best performance was against Ivory Coast in the quarter-final where he made a number of key saves, including one from Kolo Toure with the game at a critical juncture.
Fousseiny Diawara (Mali): Right back Diawara recently returned to international football and his addition to the squad for the Nations Cup gave Mali a defensive polish. Little got past him, even though he had some tough players to deal with, and he proved thoughtful and measured in his forward forays, adding extra impetus at the right moment to his team’s attacks.
Bakary Kone (Burkina Faso): The runners-up ended the tournament conceding only three goals, one of them from the penalty spot. Much of this had to do with the form of the 24-year-old central defender from Olympique Lyon. Kone was one of Burkina Faso’s three key players at the tournament, often coming to the rescue of his centre back partner Paul Koulibaly.
Nando (Cape Verde Islands): The captain of the gusty islanders retired from international football after an inspirational leadership role at the tournament, where Cape Verde were making their debut. With a mop of unruly hair, central defender Nando rose from the obscurity of the French second division to exemplify the fighting spirit of his team
Elderson Echiejile (Nigeria): Using the flanks was a big part of Nigeria’s winning strategy and the Super Eagles’ left back used every opportunity to get forward and pose an offensive threat. His goal against Mali in the semi-final keyed a devastating performance which set Nigeria up for the title. The 25-year-old now returns to Braga in Portugal, where he had been condemned to the reserves earlier in the season.
John Obi Mikel (Nigeria): The Chelsea man was imperious throughout and should have been crowned the tournament’s best player. He has been a full fixture in Nigeria’s side since 2006 but failed to live up to his potential until now. His command of the midfield, strength in holding onto the ball, disrupting opponents and driving the team forward laid the platform for his team’s victory and re-established his credentials as one of Africa’s best.
Charles Kabore (Burkina Faso): Suspended for the first game, Kabore returned to the side as Burkina Faso beat Ethiopia 4-0 in their second group match. He directed play from the heart of midfield, popping up at full back, where he usually plays for Olympique Marseille, and darting into the opposing penalty area soon after. He was a calming influence when his team were on the brink of being carried away by their enthusiasm.
Seydou Keita (Mali): The 33-year-old proved the catalyst for Mali’s third place finish. He scored three goals to become his country’s record Nations Cup finals scorer, going past Frederic Kanoute. Keita moved effortlessly around the pitch, fetching and carrying the ball, producing probing passes and running into clever positions. It was his sixth appearance at the finals.
Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso): An uncanny burst of acceleration and super skills made spindly Pitroipa a joy to watch. He was named the player of the tournament although will probably best be remembered for the red card that ruled him out of the final, only for the Confederation of African Football to rescind the decision.
Victor Moses (Nigeria): Just a year on from his debut for Nigeria, the former England under-21 international is now an African champion. Despite battling injury throughout the tournament, Moses scored twice against Ethiopia in the last group game to ensure Nigeria’s progress, and in the semi-final against Mali the winger tormented the opposing defence.
Emmanuel Emenike (Nigeria): Finished joint top goal scorer with four but had the heartbreak of having to sit out the final because of a hamstring injury. The Russian-based forward has a direct style with fearsome speed and strength, reminiscent of Nigeria great Rashidi Yekini, and also proved a threat at set pieces.