Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Winners and Losers Among the Premier League Players
Africa’s Premier Competition has long been brimming with Premier League talent, with English-based players often making it to the tournament’s latter stages.
The fortunes of the Premier League contingent this time around have been decidedly mixed, while two of Chelsea’s stars added the continental championship to their burgeoning list of accolades, a number of the EPL’s other players failed to cover themselves in glory.
Read on to find the winners and the losers among the Premier League’s Afcon stars.
Morocco: Karim El-Ahmadi (Aston Villa) and Oussama Assaidi (Liverpool)
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Not a successful tournament for the North African nation, as the Atlas Lions fell at the first hurdle, drawing all three games as they limped home.
Liverpool’s Assaidi was one of a number of exciting attacking options that failed to ignite under the glare of a continent. He, along with the much-fancied trio of Abdelaziz Barrada, Nordin Amrabat, and Younes Belhanda struggled to spark, and crucially, couldn’t provide the support for front man Mounir El Hamdaoui.
Karim El Ahmadi played deeper, but had difficulties linking the play, and struggled to impose himself on games. In his defence, his omission from the final group game, against South Africa, saw Morocco looking a lot more open, and they were eliminated after conceding two goals.
Two losers here, and they will perhaps be relieved to return to England to sit on Liverpool’s bench and firefight with Aston Villa’s kindergarten respectively.
Mali: Modibo Maiga (West Ham) and Samba Diakite (QPR)
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A successful tournament for Mali, who romped to their second successive third place finish at an Afcon—not bad for a team that hasn’t traditionally found itself in the upper echelons of continental football. Their two Premier League stars, however, may well feel frustrated with their Afcon displays.
Despite finding regular game time throughout the tournament, Modibo Maiga struggled to bring his attacking talents to the fore during Mali’s run to the semifinals. He was replaced at half-time in the rout against Nigeria, before being dropped altogether for the final match with Ghana. Maiga returns to East London keen to involve himself in the first team setup at Upton Park, he has thus far struggled to do so since arriving from Sochaux in 2012.
Despite starting brightly, Diakite was forced off through injury in the quarterfinal with South Africa, and was forced to sit out the rest of the competition. Without their midfield enforcer for the semifinal against Nigeria, the Eagles were all at sea. Could things have been different with Diakite manning the fort?
He will have plenty of opportunity to demonstrate his defensive mettle in QPR’s ongoing battle to stay in the Premier League.
Democratic Republic of Congo: Youssouf Mulumbu (West Bromwich Albion)
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One of the most impressive performers in the early half of the Premier League season, Mulumbu headed down to South Africa as the midfield enforcer in a bright Congolese outfit. Paired with Cedric Makiadi in the middle of the park, the duo struggled to contain the Black Stars in the opening 50 minutes before the Leopards found their feet and hit back.
In their next two games against Mali and Niger, Congo struggled to replicate this energy and intensity, and ended up slipping out of the competition with a whimper. It’s hard to pin the blame onto Mulumbu though, who protected the defence admirably, indeed, Congo only conceded one more competition goal after the initial onslaught against Ghana.
Since returning to the Prem, Mulumbu has continued his resilient and committed midfield work, manfully holding Liverpool off as The Albion recorded a sterling 2-0 win at Anfield.
Zambia: Emmanuel Mayuka (Southampton)
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Zambia’s first round elimination marked a disastrous return to the competition for the holders. The competition didn’t go to plan for many in the Chipolopolo side, least of all their attacking talents—the fact that goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene was joint top scorer is a damning indictment of the side’s attacking options.
Suggestions that Emmanuel Mayuka is stagnating may well have been lent weight by his disappointing performances during the cup. Only given five minutes to break the deadlock against Ethiopia, he started in the side’s subsequent two games, but was unable to make an impact.
After making his big move to the Premier League and to Southampton, opportunities have been few and far between. Things need to pick up sooner rather than later for the talented frontman to deliver on his untapped potential.
Nigeria: John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses (Both Chelsea)
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Before the tournament began, I had contrasting expectations for Chelsea’s Nigerian duo.
Moses may only be in the nascent stages of his international, but at times he has looked like a seasoned veteran, capable of prizing open the tightest defence, or creating openings where little had previously existed. I had foreseen this as the stage where Moses could step up and identify himself as one of the continent’s premier talents.
Mikel, on the other hand, has often been criticised for failing to find his niche with the national side; often torn between playing as the creative talent of his youth, and the hardened destroyer of his later years with Chelsea. I was concerned that once again Mikel would struggle to take control of games.
Both men excelled during the competition; Mikel as an impressive dominant midfield force—particularly against the Ivory Coast, and Moses as a devastating attacking livewire.
The Continental Crown was just reward for their terrific performances.
Cote D'Ivoire: Arouna Kone, Kolo and Yaya Toure, Abdul Razak, Cheik Tiote and Gervinho
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The national side with the largest proportion of Premier League-based talent may also have been the most disappointing. While some expected the famed Golden Generation to swank through the tournament with the panache and the conviction to match their high profiles and flashy shirt nicknames, the Elephants looked consistently lethargic, and never quite seemed to maintain the focus and the concentration to compete against the top teams.
Kolo Toure looked haggard and cumbersome, while Cheik Tiote was unable to compete against the John Obi Mikel-inspired midfield of Nigeria. Yaya Toure and Gervinho put in impressive performances, scoring important goals early on in the competition, but also laboured against the Super Eagles, when the Elephants’ fluidity deserted them.
Togo: Emmanuel Adebayor (Spurs)
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He may be off-form in the Premier League, but Adebayor has a track record of upping his game when spearheading the national side.
This tournament may not have seen the absolute best of Adebayor, but his opening goal against Togo proved to be invaluable; it served to settle the Sparrow Hawks’ nerves and set them up for a win that ended up being central to their progress.
Unfortunately, Adebayor wasn’t able to influence the proceedings against Burkina Faso in the quarterfinal, and it was the Stallions who broke the deadlock through an extra time Jonathan Pitroipa header.
An impressive return for the national side, but Adebayor surely didn’t steal the show as he would have hoped. Still, the history books will read that with the Spurs frontman leading the line, Togo made it to an unprecedented quarterfinal berth.