With the Champions League set to return to our screens once again this week, Bleacher Report’s African Expert Ed Dove delivers his own take on the tournament so far.
In this article I present my All-African Champions League XI for this season, exploring my dream team of stars of Africa and the diaspora to have featured in Europe’s premier club competition in 2012-13.
Agree or Disagree with my selection? Comment down below and let me know who would have made your All-African XI.
The Douala-born Malaga stopper is in this list for one reason: he is the only African goalkeeper to have featured in the competition this season. While Lille stopper Barel Mouko is of Congolese origin, the backup failed to feature.
With only one appearance, Kameni himself was close to missing out himself; currently playing second fiddle to Argentine stopper Willy Caballero, his only performance was in the inglorious 2-2 home draw with Anderlecht.
For a keeper who was once heralded as the heir apparent to Cameroon giants Thomas N’Kono and Joseph-Antoine Bell, Kameni’s development hasn’t progressed as hoped. His breaking of N’Kono’s clean sheets record at Espanyol now seems like a long time ago, and I suspect Kameni may need a move to pastures new in order to have the impact many had hoped he would.
Born in Berlin, to a Ghanaian father, Bayern defender Boateng chose a different international route from his brother Prince, and opted to represent Germany in national competition. While the elder Boateng has all but turned his back on the Black Stars, Jerome is currently thriving for both Germany and Bayern.
While the occasional lapse in concentration and rash decision making can let him down, as was evidenced in the red card received against BATE Borisov, Boateng’s versatility has made him a valuable asset to this young and exciting Bayern side. Still only 24, Boateng already has the experience and the raw ability to consolidate his place as one of Europe’s most prominent defenders.
It was in that BATE Borisov game that David Alaba, Bayern’s Austrian-Filipino-Nigerian prodigy, scored his first Champions League goal. A talented young player, Alaba’s main strength is perhaps his versatility. Capable of playing in central midfield, or on either flank, the 20-year-old seems to have settled into the left back role thrust upon him by Jupp Heynckes.
The youngster was named Austrian Footballer of the Year in 2011, and, remarkably, scored in the shoot-out in Bayern’s penalty win against Real Madrid in last year’s Champions League semi.
A long career at the very top awaits this young starlet.
Capable of influencing contests admirably from midfield, Kwadwo Asamoah’s debut season at Juventus has seen him play predominantly as a left wing back. Able to marry creativity, power, and a delightful footballing technique, Asamoah has been earmarked for the top of the game since his early days at Liberty Professionals in the Ghanaian league.
Dreams of playing with Andrea Pirlo have finally become reality, and the Ghanaian’s dynamism and energy complement the regista’s more static style.
While La Vecchia Signora weren’t originally considered among the Champions League favourites on their return to the competition, their impressive run could see Asamoah add to the Supercoppa he has already won in Turin.
‘Asa’s’ year has been marred, however, by another disappointing Cup of Nations performance for the Black Stars of Ghana. While many nations would have been happy with a 4th place finish, the Ghanaian public demand more of their star-studded lineup. Despite this disappointment, I wouldn’t bet against Asamoah one day lifting the continent’s finest prize.
Belhanda may not have managed to maintain the momentum that he set for himself in 2012, but that is not to deny his place among the continent’s finest attacking midfielders. After announcing his arrival as a key component of the Montpellier side that claimed a maiden Ligue 1 title for the Southern club, Belhanda has won plaudits aplenty with his mature vision, creative flair and searing dribbling.
However, the 2012-13 season hasn’t brought the sort of sustained development that observers had hoped for. Whilst some suggested the African Footballer of the Year nominee would flourish in the exalted refines of the Champions League, the opposite was in fact the case, with Louis Nicollin fuming as his investment wilted, failing to build on their unlikely title victory.
It was a similar story at the Cup of Nations, where a Moroccan side fancied by some to go all the way slunk home in the opening round. Belhanda, a potential star of the Cup, was little more than a peripheral figure, and failed to do himself justice.
A move is on the cards this summer, and a new challenge may well be the injection of incentive the attacking midfielder needs to get his career back on track. Expect the player to make a big impact in the competition in the coming years...although don't expect that to be with Montpellier.
While naturally the departure of Robin Van Persie has contributed to Arsenal’s unhappy demise, I can’t help imagine what a difference the craft and steel of Alex Song would have made to recent defeats. Would Bayern have been so dominant at the Emirates? Would Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Parker have carved the Gunners up so effectively had the Cameroonian been there? Would the rickety back line have looked as exposed to the pace and guile of Bale and Lennon, and would the North London side be languishing in fifth place?
And yet, all that considered, Song’s most memorable contributions were at the other end of the pitch. A delightful assist against Aston Villa demonstrated the technical prowess and the attacking nous the midfielder enjoys.
Signed in the summer, by Barcelona, for a reasonable fee of £15 million, the Catalan side may well have torn the heart from Arsenal’s midfield. Song featured in all 6 of his new club’s group stage matches, starting 4, and being brought on to tighten things up in away wins against Benfica and Spartak Moscow.
As an enthusiast of the African game, the continent’s influence in Milan’s unlikely home victory against Barcelona was worth celebrating. Stephen El Shaarawy and M’Baye Niang were lively, while Ghanaian midfielders Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng were dynamic and brought guile and craft to what was a very convincing performance.
I remember Boateng as a raw and exciting talent at White Hart Lane, and while I was sad to see him turn his back on the Ghanaian national side and add to their complement of riches, it is pleasing to see him realise the potential he had as a much younger man.
Still only 25, the midfielder appears to have matured, and has grown into Milan’s revered #10 shirt. Effective playing just behind the strikers, Boateng is adept at ghosting into the box and firing devastating shots towards goal. While the Berlin-born star perhaps hasn’t found the net for Milan as much as he would have liked this season, a goal in the recent rout of Lazio will have placed him in fine fettle ahead of the decisive second leg against Barcelona.
Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama has been the revelation of the Champions League this year, and looks set to build a top-class career on the back of some terrific performances.
Versatile enough to man both the defence and the midfield, the African’s bustling, dynamic presence has been the platform on which Celtic escaped a tricky group.
Bought for less than a million pounds last year, the purchase now looks thoroughly inspired, with Celtic identifying 25 million as the fee needed to snare him from Scotland.
A midfield dynamo in the truest sense, Wanyama’s inclusion in this team comes particularly after a delightful pair of performances against Barcelona—he even became the first Kenyan to score in the Champions League when his winning goal beat Victor Valdes at Park Head.
Not bad for a player who is still only 21.
This is looking like being a woefully disappointing season for Yaya Toure; currently way off the pace in the defence of the Premier League, the midfielder also saw his own admirable efforts amount to nothing in the Cup of Nations, when the ‘Golden Generation’ of the Ivory Coast were eliminated by Nigeria.
In the Champions League it was a similar story for the Citizens; once again they found themselves drawn in the fiendish ‘Group of Death’, but even so, limp, insipid displays against Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax were not well received.
Still, in spite of the disappointments, Toure still remains one of the continent, if not the world’s premier midfielders, and could not be overlooked for this African Champions League XI.
Years from now we will look back on this season, and declare it as the coming-of-age of Victor Moses. Perhaps this will be seen as the year when one of Africa’s finest strikers found his feet.
The Cup of Nations is Moses’ crowing glory to date—particularly performances against Ethiopia, Mali and the Ivory Coast—when his pace and desire saw his nation through.
However, while performances in South Africa delighted a nation and made a continent stand up and take notice of a prodigal talent, Moses had already demonstrated his capacities in Chelsea’s ill-fated defence of their Champions League crown, seasoning their disastrous campaign with some patches of genuine magic.
In an Autumn purple patch, Moses was named Man of the Match as Chelsea dumped Manchester United out of the Capital One Cup, he bagged another against Swansea in the Premier League, before sealing the winner against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.
The win ultimately proved not to be enough to see the Pensioners through, but doubtless Moses has several more European campaigns ahead of him.
One of the finest finishers still left in the competition, Karim Benzema has augmented his often-relentless scoring ability with some crucial goals in the group stage. The striker’s return was a healthy goal every other game, with the net rippling in both games against Manchester City, as well as the demolition of Ajax in Amsterdam.
Unable to find the net in Real’s 1-1 home draw with Manchester United in the Round of 16, Madrid boss Jose Mourinho will doubtless identify Benzema as one of a clutch of players who could steal the show at Old Trafford and see the side progress.
A French international with Algerian origins, the striker, with his sublime in-box poaching, his impressive technical ability and dangerous turn of pace, is an example of Africa’s influence extending across the upper echelons of Europe’s international and continental game.