The 2012 African Cup of Nations kicked off on Saturday, with co-hosts and debutants Equatorial Guinea getting a last-gasp, dramatic 1-0 win over Libya. The likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Demba Ba are chomping at the bit to showcase the quality of football in the African continent, but this year’s edition has a number of recognisable absentees. With Niger and Botswana making their bows in the tournament along with the co-hosts, the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Egypt have missed out on participation. Despite the sizeable ability of some of the players and teams at the event, there is considerable African talent not competing this year, which could make up quite the team….
GK: Carlos Kameni (Cameroon / Malaga CF) – Once heralded as the shining light of African goalkeepers, Kameni has amassed 63 caps for The Indomitable Lions over his eleven-year international career. The talented shot-stopper had fallen out of favour this season at Espanyol, and secured a move to big-spending and ambitious Andalusian side Malaga during this transfer window. Kameni will look to recapture the form in La Liga that saw him linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs earlier in his career, and have a new start at La Rosaleda.
Back up: Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria / Lille)
LB: Benoit Assou Ekotto (Cameroon / Tottenham) – The sprightly defender has made the left back jersey at White Hart Lane his own in recent seasons, and has increasingly become a more important part of the north London club’s side. Initially slightly unpredictable and nervy after his move from Lens back in 2006, the 27-year-old now has Harry Redknapp’s confidence and has installed a solidarity and consistency into his game. Internationally Assou-Ekotto has made 17 appearances for his country, but will have to wait another two years for the chance to potentially make his African Cup of Nations debut.
Back up – Taye Taiwo (Nigeria / QPR-AC Milan)
RB: Joseph Yobo (Nigeria / Fenerbahce) – Man-mountain defender Joseph Yobo is known for his no-nonsense approach and is currently on loan at Fenerbahce from Everton. The stopper is generally deployed as a central defender but has the versatility to play at full-back; his time at Goodison Park has seen him alternate between both. Captain of Nigeria with 86 caps, Yobo is one of the most experienced and well-respected defenders on the continent; at 31 years of age his chances of playing again in an African Cup of Nations in the future are fading away slightly.
Back up – Ahmed Elmohamady (Egypt / Sunderland)
CB: Sebastian Bassong (Cameroon / Tottenham) – Another Cameroon and Spurs defender, Bassong has failed to live up to his excellent Newcastle form down in London. Despite slipping down the pecking order at the Premier League side and being linked with a move away from the club, the 16-times capped centre half has the ability to compete at a top level if he keeps his head in the game and maintains concentration. Excellent in the air with a turn of pace, Bassong could have enticed potential suitors at the tournament had Cameroon qualified.
Back up – Aurelien Chedjou (Cameroon / Lille)
CB: Stephane Mbia (Cameroon / Marseille) – Admittedly Mbia plays predominantly as an all-action central midfielder, but the 25-year-old has on occasion featured in the backline and has the aptitude to make an excellent defender. The 36-times capped man progressed through the ranks at Rennes, and has made the step up to the Stade Velodrome, where he has looked accomplished and assured for Didier Deschamps’ side.
Back up – Nicolas N’Koulou (Cameroon / Marseille)
RW: Ahmed Musa (Nigeria / CSKA Moscow) – Flying 19-year-old winger Ahmed Musa has announced himself onto the club and international game in spectacular fashion over the last 12 months, staring for Dutch side VVV Venlo before sealing a €5million deal to CSKA a fortnight ago. With pace to burn and a trickery that has tortured countless full backs, Musa will continue his development in the Russian capital and has the potential to be a top-drawer player in the future.
Back up – Victor Obinna (Nigeria / Lokomotiv Moscow)
CM: Michael Essien (Ghana / Chelsea) – The Stamford Bridge battle-axe has not recovered from injury in time to step out with Ghana in the tournament, but has returned to fitness and will start to feature again at Chelsea in January. Persistent knee problems have robbed the Premier League of one of its most dynamic and athletic midfielders over the last two seasons more often than not, but the 52-times capped bruiser will look to get back to the form that made him one of the best players in his position before injuries took their toll.
Back up – Jon Obi Mikel (Nigeria / Chelsea)
CM: Alex Song (Cameroon / Arsenal) – Arguably the most improved player at the Emirates Stadium this season, Song has become an integral member of the north London club’s squad since the summer departure of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona. Excellent in possession, the 24-year-old gets through a shedload of work in 90 minutes, and is at times charged with stopping opposition sides’ midfield advances single-handedly due to the attacking instincts of his team-mates. Already an excellent player, Song has the ability to be as good as Gunners legend Patrick Vieria should he continue his current path of development.
Back up – McDonald Mariga (Kenya / Inter Milan)
LM: Ryad Boudebouz (Algeria / Sochaux) – Similar to Mbia, attacking midfielder Boudebouz is playing slightly out of position in my dream team, and would be tasked with coming off his wing into a more central role (tactical genius). The Algeria international is slowly but surely gaining the recognition he deserves after emerging as a major talent in Ligue 1. Creative, decisive and energetic, it is only a matter of time before the Stade Auguste Bonal outfit lose their star player to a bigger club; he deserves it and is ready for a step up.
Back up – Steven Pienaar (South Africa / Tottenham)
ST – Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo / Tottenham) – So often the solitary threat in an average Togo side, Adebayor is anything but mediocre and has a record of success at every club he has played at. The sometimes temperamental forward has been key in Spurs’ rise to third in the Premier League, as he continues to showcase the ability of being both a target man and an attacker more than comfortable with the ball at his feet. Quick, strong, lethal in front of goal – Adebayor is comfortably his nation’s top ever goalscorer with 18 international goals, despite only being 27.
Back up – Mohamed Zidan (Egypt / Borussia Dortmund)
ST – Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon / Anzhi Makhachkala) – An African idol of a generation, Eto’o remains one of the most accomplished strikers in world football despite opting to swap Serie A giants Inter for Russian oil tycoons Anzhi, and would quite comfortably slot into some of the best teams in the world, nevermind my African dream team. Deceptively strong, Eto’o has been a handful for international defenders across Spain and Italy for a decade; the majority of the competition’s centre halves will have sighed with relief that the 109-times capped Cameroonian is not participating in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Back up – Obafemi Martins (Nigeria / Rubin Kazan)