Almost all of the expected names made it-just-into the knockout stages of this year’s African Nations Cup. The same can barely be said of the stars who were expected to light up the stage.
Instead, it is some unexpected faces who stormed to the forefront to make their mark, before heading home Osaze Odemwingie is the only Super Eagles to receive a mention in the first round. First round best players include:
GK: Ovono Ebang (Gabon)
Gabon stunned many at this tournament. Not expected to do much but make up the numbers, they caused the first big shock of the competition by handing Cameroun a 1-0 defeat in their opening game, and then went on to draw 0-0 with Tunisia. Ovono was the foundation on which they built those solid performances.
RB: Samuel Inkoom (Ghana)
Ghana’s rookie right back only got the chance for a starting place because of a last minute injury to John Paintsil. How the Fulham man will rue that injury, as his place in the first team is now under serious threat. Inkoom defends with a maturity that belies his 20 years, and can also be counted upon to deliver inch-perfect offensive crosses.
LB: Siaka Tiene (CIV)
In an Ivorien team so far struggling to live up to their reputation, Siaka Tiene stands out as one of the best left backs in the tournament. Mali’s Adama Tamboura also comes to mind here.
CB: Danny Shittu (Nigeria)
Nigeria’s defence looked all over the place in the opening day defeat to Egypt. But the introduction of Shittu brought stability, and two clean sheets.
CB: Wael Goma (Egypt)
Only one goal allowed in three games is not a stat to sneeze at, and Goma has been key to Egypt’s near perfect defensive record.
CM: Josephy Kamwendo (Malawi)
The 23-year-old Orlando Pirates midfielder raised a few eye-brows in Malawi’s win over Algeria with his dominating performance, he didnt slow down in the next two games either. Shame has forwards couldnt quite keep up.
CM: Rainford Kalaba (Zambia)
Strength, speed, skill and strength. Kalaba will be a big miss for Zambia against Nigeria.
LM: Osaze Odemwingie (Nigeria)
Is it just coincidence that Nigeria’s fortunes changed when he returned to the side? He was actually deployed at right midfield but is equally adept on the other flank, as he showed in scorching a daisy-cutter home from there against Mozambique.
RM: Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso)
He is the reason I moved Odemwingie to the left. Moumouni Dagano was the name on everyone’s lips when Burkina Faso came into the tourney, but Pitroipa is the one who showed skill, strength, endless running and an ability to almost carry the team on his own.
FW: Mohammed Zidan (Egypt)
Very technical player who made things happen for Egypt with his touch, awareness and ability to make the right choices in front of goal.
FW: Flavio (Angola)
The former Al Ahly man’s three goals show just how much of an effect he has on the team. Mark him all you will, he will still find a way to score.
Coach: Hassan Shehata (Egypt)
Mastermind of the only perfect record in the first round. It could have been even better if Chinedu Obasi had not struck that wonderful goal to soil Essam El Hadary’s copy book.