The quarter finals are upon us, and this is where things get serious. The group stages were a joyous affair, and introduced all manner of characters (and hairstyles) to a global audience. We asked our team of contributors to choose their heroes of Afcon 2013 so far, the only rule being that they couldn’t pick a player from their own country. Enjoy, and post your own in the comments. First up is Cheta Nwanze, who picked Cape Verde’s Heldon.
The player who has caught my eye in this tournament so far has been Cape Verde’s Heldon (image above). The attacking midfielder apparently plays his club footie for Maritimo in Portugal, hence his staying under the radar. I loved his performance from the bench against Angola despite having been dropped after the first game, and his reward, shooting Cape Verde into the quarters. How’s that for dedication?
Football formations are increasingly the preserve of black-book-carrying high-priest-like technicians, overly encouraged by a chorus of statistical and zonal apostles. It represents a shift in the strategic approach to football, from adventure to pre-emption. This is not intended to be dismissive of the tactical approaches prevalent in the modern game; there are plenty of interesting new paradigms for the neo purist, but for me the game was more fun when old school wingers danced down the line, teased their opponents and whipped crosses into the box like comets. This is why Les Etalons (Stallions) Jonathan Pitroipa is the player of the tournament for me. The upright man remains an old school, dyed in the wool, yellow dog winger.
Pitroipa is willowy, wiry and wispy, everything a winger should be. It is a shame so few remain in modern football. Many have no doubt had their instincts coached out of them, others have probably been deemed not physical enough. The plaudits for Burkina Faso’s progression to the Quarter Finals have so far gone to Pitroipa’s very capable team mate, Alain Traoré, but behind every Traoré goal or much every significant attack by the Stallions, Pitroipa has been racing down the lines, cutting into the box, often releasing the near perfect pass or cross and generally making himself a nuisance, impossible to mark or hold down. Pitroipa never gave up when Burkina Faso needed an injury time equalizer against Nigeria; he turned the disadvantage of his team being a man down against Ethiopia somehow to his team’s advantage running the Walya ragged, creating two goals and capping off the performance with a goal of his own; and he knew enough to translate his experience in the final first round group match against Zambia to run through the central channels and lead the line. Do Togo have an old school full back who will know how to deal with him? I doubt it.
Tresor Mputu (image above) from Democratic Republic of Congo is my man. A player who plies his trade for TP Mazembe back in Congo has great dribbling skills, he is a very good passer of the ball and his precision when shooting at goal is undoubted. He is also captain, chosen among all the great Congolese players who play in Europe.
Asamoah Gyan and his teammates in Ghana always come up with some of the most creative goal celebrations in the Africa Cup of Nations. But this time around they were trumped by Muteba Kidiaba’s bum-shuffling celebration that has made the Democratic Republic of Congo’s goalkeeper an internet sensation. It’s not just the celebration that draws the attention to the keeper but his hairstyle or is it hairstyles all crammed into one. It’s a mohawk-come-dreadlocks that makes him standout.
When DRC scored the opening goal against Mali, in the group’s decider, in Durban the attention shifted quickly from the goal scorer to Kidiaba. He didn’t disappoint with a more refined bum-shuffling celebration than in the match against Ghana. It was sad when the Leopards were eliminated as they left with Kidiaba, his dance and hairstyle.
I would’ve gone for my homeboy Siyabonga Sangweni, defender at Orlando Pirates (“Once a Pirate …”), representing for Kwazulu Natal and two goal hero of Bafana. But the player I admire the most is Nigerian forward, Emmanuel Emeneke. Built like a bus and trailed by a match-fixing scandal at his previous club, Fenerbache, in Turkey (police ruled he he has nothing to answer for now, but he may still go to prison for it), and with a remarkable back story (his career took off after moving to South Africa’s second division), he has been the one constant in an otherwise lukewarm Nigerian team at Afcon 2013 (who may still surprise us). More recently he’s been on loan at Spartak Moscow where he scores a goal every other game, so much that it annoys the referees. He scored Nigeria’s first goal in the tournament (against Burkina Faso), then again in their second match against Zambia and may prove the difference when they play Cote d’Ivoire in a quarterfinal match Sunday.
Appropriating the name of a legend is always risky business. Somehow, in the case of Luís Carlos Almada Soares, Cape Verde’s diminutive winger who plies his trade in the Portuguese 2nd Division and calls himself Platini, it works. He’s quick, skillful, a bit arrogant, and has been dangerous since the opener– even scoring the Blue Shark’s historic first Afcon goal.
With three goals to his name in the group stage, no one has struck the ball in a more aesthetically pleasing way than Alain Traoré. Possessing Thor’s hammer of a left foot, the Lorient attacking midfielder has been a constant threat and will surely see his stock surge after the tournament. You heard it hear first: Francophilic Newcastle’s next signing.
My favorite live player — and I write this as I watch Algeria-Cote d’Ivoire play — has beenDidier Drogba, who I like for his confident, cool on-field leadership, the way he talks with players on his team, the other team, and the referees makes it seem that he is everyone’s respected older brother and future President of Cote D’Ivoire and head of the United Nations.
But my three favorite players who dont get enough attention are Steady Cam, Slo Mo, and Extreme Closeup. Keep your eyes on the two Steady cam operators, one on each end of the pitch and see their focus and attention; always ready on goal and for corner kicks. Slo Mo changes how we see every shot, foul, and acting job as an out-of-time masterpiece of control. Extreme Closeup is perhaps sometimes too exuberant with shots revealing badly trimmed sideburns but the amazing shots of the concentrating eyes of a player about to take a penalty with sweat dripping down quickly cut with extreme longshots of the field certainly shape how we see the personal energy and the big picture.
I was delighted when Niger qualified for their second Afcon finals because it meant seeing more of Ouwo Moussa Maâzou. This was our official farewell when the great man’s tournament came to an end, “Ode to Ouwo Moussa Maâzou, Nigerien striking sensation”:
So farewell then Ouwo Moussa Maâzou, Nigerien striking sensation.
Long of leg, short of sock, burly of chest and furious of face,
You wore Niger’s Number 2 and borrowed your socks from a small child.
Let nobody say that you were afraid to have a shot at goal.
Ouwo Moussa Maâzou, Nigerien striking sensation, you were born Offside and never left.
But now you must leave Afcon2013.