Sports Features of 2014-01-04

My opinionated 2013 Africa starting XI

Once again it is time to generate debate and stir up some controversy as usual with my own views on which players I think should make up a good starting eleven for the African continent over the year 2013.

May I stress that I could be totally wrong, but what you are about to read is what I observed as a football journalist over the year 2013.

This article is actually inspired by my colleague and friend Jerry Kwame Ayensu, who asked me to discuss this very topic and on Friday January 3 2014, you might see me on GTV Stage Africa discussing my choices.

Controversially, even though Didier Drogba was nominated for the African Player of the Year award, he doesn’t make it onto my selection, and whilst African champions Nigeria dominate the team, Ghana has only one representative and there is a player from Mali as well.

I am using a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation that can easily translate into a 4-4-2 system in making this selection.

Goalkeeper: Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria)

The Lille goalkeeper has gotten better and better as the years have gone by and he was a major reason why the Super Eagles won the African Nations Cup. His agility, cat like reflexes and excellent anticipation saw him earn the number one spot at Lille, where his exploits have seen the Ligue 1 side embark on an excellent run. To be honest, he has been one of Africa’s top goalies over the last three years and for me, he is the best goalkeeper on the continent now.

Right Back: Ahmed Fathi (Egypt)

Even though he is a veteran with both Al Ahly and the Pharoahs, Ahmed Fathy has maintained superb performance levels over the years. Even though he can also play in midfield, his biggest asset is bombing down the right and he is a very good crosser of the ball as well. He also is steely in the tackle and he has been consistent over the last few years. Even though Egypt failed to qualify for the World Cup, his efforts for the Pharaohs were easy to see and indeed, he helped Al Ahly to another CAF Champions League triumph.

Centre back: Nicolas N’koulou (Cameroon)

The Marseille defender is vastly underrated, but after bursting onto the international scene as a callow teenager at the 2010 World Cup, N’Koulou hasn’t looked back. He has grown into a mature reader of the game and at 23, he is already a leader at the back for the Indomitable Lions. His input gave Cameroon one of the best defences in the African World Cup qualifying series and he is a major reason why Cameroon will take part in the 2014 World Cup. He is strong in the tackle and excellent in playing the ball out of defence as well.

Centre back: Geoffrey Oboabona (Nigeria)

From the relative obscurity of the Nigerian Premier League, the defender played his heart out for Sunshine Stars and Oboabona’s breakthrough eventually came after Stephen Keshi was appointed head coach of Nigeria. Keshi noticed him and took him to the 2013 African Nations Cup. After team captain Joseph Yobo performed below par in the first game against Burkina Faso, Keshi replaced him with Oboabona and the move paid dividends. Oboabona formed an excellent defensive partnership with Kenneth Omeruo and that helped in landing the Super Eagles the title. Oboabona has not looked back since then and after koving to Turkey in the summer, his efforts also helped Nigeria qualify for the 2014 World Cup. He is aggressive and strong in the challenge and for me, he has been one of the best defenders from Africa this season.

Left back: Adama Tamboura (Mali)

Tamboura was undoubtedly one of Mali’s standout stars at the 2013 African Nations Cup tournament where the Eagles placed third after beating Ghana 3-1 in the third place match. The Randers FC defender has been one of the most consistent African left backs over the last few years and even though his efforts failed to help Mali qualify for the World Cup, you would be hard pressed to get a better left back than Tamboura at least over the course of 2013.

Holding midfielder: John Obi Mikel (Nigeria)

He was one of the major reasons why Nigeria won the 2013 African Nations Cup with his performances in the middle of the park. Even though he has evolved from a dribbling attacking midfielder into a holding midfielder, he has become one of the best in his position in the world, never mind Africa. He also helped Chelsea win the Europa League and he proved Keshi’s most important player as the Super Eagles qualified for the 2014 World Cup. Little wonder that he has been shortlisted for the 2013 African player of the year award by the Confederation of African Football (CAF)

Central midfielder: Yaya Toure (Cote D’ivoire)

Without a doubt, the box-to-box midfielder is one of the best players in the world at the moment, especially in his position and he is virtually undroppable for both Manchester City and Cote d’Ivoire. I believe that he would win the African Player of the Year award for a third consecutive time and indeed he has already won BBC’s version of the award. He has the ability to ghost into goal scoring positions, as well as the ability to track back and protect the back four. He is also a deadly set piece specialist, and he is on course to be one of the stars of the show in Brazil.

Right Attack: Mohammed Salah (Egypt)

The Basel winger has become one of Africa’s most lethal attacking talents and 2013 was a good year for the Egypt international. His ability to cut in from the right and score goals reminds many of a younger Lionel Messi playing in the same position for Barcelona a few years back. He proved a vital outlet of goals as Egypt stormed into the final World Cup qualifying phase with six straight wins. Even though the Pharaohs ultimately failed to make it to Brazil, there is no doubt that Salah has been the team’s breakout star and should he continue in this manner, he is a candidate for a future African Player of the Year award.

Player in the ‘hole’/second striker: Asamoah Gyan (Ghana)

It was indeed a masterstroke by Ghana’s head coach Kwesi Appiah to play the Al Ain forward in behind a lead striker in the course of the World Cup qualifiers and the Black Stars captain responded with crucial goals that eventually helped Ghana win a ticket to Brazil. Gyan’s game intelligence, his eye for a pass and his ability to make central defenders work mark him out as the best player in the ‘hole’ in Africa in my opinion. I may be Ghanaian, but I thought he should have been nominated ahead of Didier Drogba for the 2013 African player of the Year awards. Nevertheless, he remains Ghana’s most important player and deservedly takes his place in my opinionated starting eleven.

Left Attack: Jonathan Pitriopa (Burkina Faso)

Indeed many soccer pundits are not happy that Brazil will not see the skills of this gifted winger, who set the 2013 African Nations Cup tournament alight with his skills. The Rennes forward was voted the tournament’s best player and went on to inspire the Stallions to reach the final World Cup qualifying phase. Even though he scored 1 the first leg against Algeria, defensive frailties ultimately cost his side dear as Burkina Faso conceded twice in Ouagadougou and was beaten 1-0 in the second leg and eliminated. For me however, no one was better in 2013 in his position than Pitriopa and that is why he is in this team.

Striker: Emmanuel; Emenike

My colleague panelist at GTV and former Black Stars striker Augustine Arhinful was constantly raving about him during the 2013 African Nations Cup and after watching him inspire Nigeria to victory, despite missing the final through injury, I could see why. Emenike reminds me so much of the late Rashidi Yekini, with the same power-laden shots, aggression, ability to bring his other team-mates into play and the knack of giving defenders nightmares. His goal against Cote D’Ivoire was a sight to behold and even though he was out injured for a while, he came back to inspire a magnificent comeback as Nigeria came back from a goal down to beat Ethiopia 2-1 in Addis Ababa, with Emenike getting both goals. Keeping him fit will be one of Keshi’s priorities going into the 2014 World Cup, where, with the right service, he could prove a major hit.

Coach of the year: Stephen Keshi

With all that he has achieved despite a glaring lack of respect for his abilities by his own country’s football governing body, I believe Stephen Keshi has been the best coach on the continent. The former Super Eagles captain has shown a very strong steely resolve in the face of adversity and if the Nigerian Football Federation gives him the necessary support, Nigeria could be one of the dark horses in Brazil.

So there you have it. These are solely my views and anyone at all is entitled to disagree. After all, that is the beauty of football discussions.

Source: footy-ghana
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