5 Africans Who May Decide the Destiny of the European Continental Competition
Europe’s continental club competitions have each come down to the final eight contenders. The round of 16 in both the Champions League and the Europa League were hotly contested, but as the numbers were halved once again, only the finest sides remain.
Among them are a number of African stars who look set to play key roles between now and the season’s end.
Some of these men are set to compete in the summer’s World Cup; others are fighting on several fronts, with domestic glory still within the realms of possibility. For all of them, however, victory in either of Europe’s continental competitions remains a primary ambition.
This article celebrates five who are likely to be influential between now and the end of the season.
The second-leg tie between Chelsea and Galatasaray was heavily anticipated due to the presence of Didier Drogba, who was returning to Stamford Bridge for the first time since his Champions League victory with the club back in 2012.
The Ivorian was rightly revered as a Blues great upon his return, but it was one of the club’s current players, Samuel Eto’o, who actually made an impact on the contest.
The fact that the two men are among the finest strikers ever to emerge from the African continent only added to the intrigue around the meeting. It was tell, perhaps, that Eto’o made the key contribution.
The Cameroonian scored in the match’s opening minutes, leaving Drogba to huff and puff to little avail for the remainder of the contest.
If this is to be Eto’o’s final season in the limelight of Western Europe at one of the world’s major clubs, then there can hardly be a better way to sign off than with a fourth Champions League medal with a third club, equalling Clarence Seedorf’s record.
Despite their struggles in the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund have managed to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals for the second consecutive season.
Jurgen Klopp’s men are, however, not the same side that tore through Real Madrid in the semi-final least season before being pipped by Bayern Munich in the final. They have their vulnerabilities—they conceded four over two legs against Zenit St. Petersburg—and have also endured the ravages of injuries.
The likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Marcel Schmelzer and Neven Subotic—to name just a few—have all had to contend with injuries, while player sales have further depleted the squad.
One man who could be a genuine impact player in the German side’s upcoming rematch with Real is Gabonese forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The hitman has enjoyed a strong debut season in the Bundesliga since arriving from Saint-Etienne in the summer. His Champions League contributions to date have been limited, but he has the kind of ability to help BVB to a miraculous double over Madrid.
FC Basel have been a fine platform for African players to demonstrate their qualities in recent times. The Egyptian Mohamed Salah developed enormously as a player at St. Jakob-Park after arriving from North Africa and progressed enough to secure a move to Chelsea during the January transfer window.
The current Bebbi squad is littered with exciting African players. Giovanni Sio started for the Ivory Coast in a recent friendly, while Mohamed Elnenny, a compatriot of Salah, is making a name for himself as a tactical, technically proficient central midfielder.
Serey Die is arguably the most important player, however, and acts as the tenacious destroyer in the heart of the Basel midfield.
Having arrived in Switzerland at the end of 2012, the Ivorian went on to play in both legs of his new club’s Europa League semi-final defeat to Chelsea. He will be pivotal this campaign if the Swiss champions are to match, or even exceed, last year’s showing.
Algerian playmaker Sofiane Feghouli has largely struggled to replicate his La Liga form in European competition this season.
Since January and the arrival of new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, the Valencia man has become one of his side’s key inspirations. He scored and picked up the man of the match prize in the victory over Levante in the middle of January, a performance which set the tone for the rest of 2014.
Subsequently, he has assisted five goals and also scored once, in the 2-0 away victory over Dynamo Kyiv.
Despite being a regular starter in the league, the right-sider has often been used as a substitute in Europe. He hasn’t started in the Europa League since the end of November and missed out altogether as Valencia secured passage against Ludogorets in midweek.
The Algerian is, on his day, a key creative force for Valencia. The side will need to begin to get the best out of him in Europe if they are to claim their second UEFA Cup/Europa League crown.
With the Serie A title all but sewn up, Juventus can feasibly turn their attentions to the Europa League. The Italian giants dropped down to the continent’s second-tier club competition following an unlikely first-round slip-up in the Champions League and have been installed by Odds Checker as the tournament’s favourites.
A key figure in ensuring Juventus seal the crown is likely to be Ghanaian midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah.
The versatile West African offers energy, dynamism and creativity in the heart of the pitch—an area of great strength for the Bianconeri—but he is also capable of being the difference-maker in the final third.
Anyone in doubt should take a moment to watch his stunning winner against Fiorentina in Serie A.