By Tana Aiyejina*
The 2012 AFCON co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon ends today but the memories of the competition will linger on for years to come with players and teams creating a lasting impression, reports ‘TANA AIYEJINA
Yaya Toure (Cote d’Ivoire)
The current African Footballer of the Year has been inspirational in the midfield for the Elephants. The big player has combined technical ability with raw physical skills to help propel the Ivoirians to the final of the competition.
The Manchester City star is the engine room of the team holding back opposing players, winning tackles and helping the team get the ball forward with his surges up the field. He grabbed a goal in the 3-0 quarter-final defeat of co-hosts Equatorial Guinea; a ferocious free kick to crown his displays.
Seydou Keita (Mali)
Keita, Africa’s second best player, showed class at the competition as he inspired the Malians to the last four of the competition. The Barcelona star grabbed the crucial winner against Botswana before he again held his nerve to convert the all-important penalty kick that sent the Malians to the semi-final ahead of co-hosts Gabon.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)
The Nations Cup is known for unearthing new talents from the continent and in Gabon’s Aubameyang, a new African star is born. The ‘Gabonese Neymar’ was the major reason the co-hosts reached the last eight of the tourney, notching three goals in four games.
The 22-year-old ex-France U-20 international may have missed the penalty that cost Gabon a place in the semi-finals, but Aubameyang lit up the tournament with a series of scintillating displays, as he almost single-handedly pulled Gabon to the brink of a historic first-ever African Cup of Nations last four.
Aubameyang, who joined Ligue 1 side Saint-Etienne from AC Milan, was the heartbeat of virtually every Gabon attack throughout the tournament.
The Mohican-haired player is the son of former Gabon star Pierre Aubameyang. His brothers, Willy and Catilina, only just missed the final squad for the tourney.
Christopher Katongo (Zambia)
The Chipolopolo captain and Army Officer was instrumental in helping Zambia reach the final of the tourney for the first time in 18 years. He has scored three goals and has led by example scoring the equaliser in the 2-2 draw against Libya. He struck a wonder goal that helped the Zambians beat Equatorial Guinea 1-0 and seal qualification to the last-eight of the prestigious African competition. He scored another in the 3-0 demolition of Sudan in the quarter-final.
In recognition of his impressive showings at the tourney, President Michael Sata elevated him from the rank of Warrant Officer Class Two to One in the Zambia Army. He sure deserves it. He was also named Goal.com’s World Player of the Week for his efforts.
The big Real Valladolid striker was instrumental in helping the Palancas Negras qualify for the finals at the expense of Uganda and Kenya. And in Equatorial Guinea, he scored three goals in three games, including a brace against Sudan, as the Angolans were painfully eliminated in the group stages.
The Mediterranean Knights qualified for the finals despite civil war in the North African country. In fact, some players in the squad actually fought the war on the side of the rebels. In Malabo, they improved with every game, losing their first game to Equatorial Guinea 2-1 but bounced back to earn a 2-2 draw against finalists Zambia before an emphatic 2-1 win over a disappointing Senegal side. They failed to reach the quarter-finals but they left the tournament with their heads held high.
First it was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Gabonese top striker. The ex-AC Milan player fired his country to a record-equaling last eight of the competition but he was again in the spotlight, missing the crucial penalty that sent Mali to the semi-final. It was a sight to behold as teammates and officials tried to console the sobbing 22-year-old.
Then came Asamoah Gyan, the Ghanaian striker. He was in the news again after missing the penalty that denied Ghana and Africa a first spot in the semi-final of the World Cup two years ago. This time Gyan again missed a penalty that would probably have helped the Black Stars reach the final.
Zambian keeper Kennedy Mweene read Gyan’s pose well and he dived to the right to stop the unfit striker’s tame effort. It got fans angry back in Ghana as some called for the player’s head.
Demba Ba (Senegal)
Ba is unarguably the biggest flop at the tourney. The Newcastle striker along with the Teranga Lions was highly tipped for glory at the tourney but Ba ended up as a massive flop. The second top scorer in the English Premier League failed to find the back of the net in his side’s three defeats in Equatorial Guinea but he was back to scoring ways on his return to club duties along with national teammate, Papiss Cisse, helping Newcastle to a 2-1 win in the EPL.
Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso)
Hailed as Stallions’ “Cristiano Ronaldo,” Pitroipa faded into oblivion as early as the first game. Pitroipa was largely anonymous as Burkina Faso surrendered meekly to Angola and later against Sudan as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat to the Nile Crocodiles.
The Rennes man could not rise to the occasion as his teammate Moumouni Dagano also performed below expectations.
Marouane Chamakh (Morocco)
Chamakh was probably hoping to use the Nations Cup to relaunch his career after two painful years in Arsenal but he hardly had any impact as he was not even part of the four goals scored by the Atlas Lions as they exited the competition in the group stages.
Several upsets were recorded in the tournament as the underdog teams tried to prove a point in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. The first major upset was recorded on match day 2 when Zambia defeated highly favoured Senegal 2-1. The West Africans eventually proved to be the worst team at the tournament, losing their other two games to Equatorial Guinea 2-1 and Libya by the same margin.
Zambia’s Chipolopolo were not done yet as they overcame another favourites Ghana in the semi-final to reach the final. Co-hosts Gabon were in ninth heaven when they defeated North African giants Morocco and Tunisia 3-2 and 1-0 respectively in the group stage. Sudan also got the better of Burkina Faso 2-1.
*Courtesy of Punch Newspaper Nigeria,illustrations by PAV