CAF Champions League 2012: Best XI

The excellent performers from this year’s competition: Abdelwahed El-Sayed (Zamalek) Affectionately known as the ‘Lion of Africa’ by the Zamalek faithful, El Sayed was one of the smidgeon of shining lights for the Egyptian giants. The White Knights endured a tumultuous campaign in the competition, and without the thou-shall-not-pass aura of El Sayed in goal it could have been a whole lot worse. Godfrey Oboabona (Sunshine Stars) The 23-year-old Sunshine Stars skipper has become a regular fixture in Steve Keshi's Nigeria squad thanks to his assured performances in the competition, whether playing at right-back or centre-back. It's no wonder that Sunshine Stars' backline in the semi-finals against Al Ahly was such a contrast without him in the first leg and with him in the second leg. Walid Hichri (Esperance) An ever-present at the heart of the Esperance defence, the lofty centre-half was the protagonist in providing the evidence that defending isn’t a beauty competition versus TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi, pummelling every ball away with deranged brutality, particularly with his head, in what was the competition’s best individual defensive performance.

Stophira Sunzu (TP Mazembe)

At just 22, the Zambian was the defensive lynchpin of a TP Mazembe side which struggled to find equilibrium between attack and defence, especially on the road. Certainly, when he was substituted away to Berekum Chelsea all hell broke loose through the core and Mazembe went on to lose the game. Then, after his sending off in the semi-final 1st leg, Mazembe missed him dearly in the ill-fated 2nd leg. Although primarily a centre-back, he has also been deployed as a defensive midfielder where he has not only added some defensive dignity but produced fabulous long passes – like this one v Al Ahly – to spot the runs of Tresor Mputu behind defences.

Harrison Afful (Esperance)

I could have placed the protean Ghanaian wherever I wished on either flank. Indeed, he has been stationed at right back, left back, right wing and left wing for Esperance, and looked a seasoned performer in each of those positions. In a campaign where Esperance have had to deal with a phalanx of injuries down the flanks, Afful has been the invaluable streetwise jack of all trades and master of many.

Khaled Mouelhi (Esperance)

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Mouelhi is ‘Paul Scholes with a shisha pipe and tackling etiquette’. He’s a splendidly unobtrusive playmaker whose spatial awareness and tempo-setting was vital to Esperance – in the group stage dead rubber against ASO Chlef, Esperance looked completely devoid of ideas against a mediocre side and their 19-match unbeaten run came to an abrupt end. He was also entrusted with the penalty-taking duties, dispatching three during the tournament.

Hossam Ghaly (Al Ahly)

Ghaly’s all-round midfield play was integral for the structural balance of Al Ahly as he skippered them to their 7th continental title. In a team that was defensively porous, Ghaly was pivotal in play-breaking as well as play-making. Whilst his midfield partner Hossam Ashour took on much of the defensive responsibilities, Ghaly’s well-timed surges and neat balls to the attacking quartet were a key idiosyncrasy of Al Ahly and resulted in goals like this.

Mohamed Aboutrika (Al Ahy)

Despite being banned for two months – and therefore missing the semi-finals – after refusing to play in the Egypt Super Cup final, the 34-year-old finished as Al Ahly’s top scorer in the competiton with 6 goals and was the fulcrum of Al Ahly’s scintillating attacking moves. A second-half hat-trick against Stade Malien in the 2nd leg second round kept Al Ahly in the competition when, with the score at 2-0 on aggregate, a shock that would have seen Egyptian football plummet to new depths seemed to be on the cards. In short, a class act.

Youssef Msakni (Esperance)

The rousing crowd-pleaser of the competition and the best young player – if not the best – plying his trade in Africa. The 22-year-old, who completed the most dribble per game at the Africa Cup of Nations in January, roamed from the left wing with ghostly faux innocence but suddenly exploded into life when the ball was at his feet with ziggy-zaggy surgical stabs at the core of defences. Tragically, appendicitis saw him miss the first leg and fail to produce his best form in the second leg as Esperance finished as runners-up, a sour Hollywood ending for a player who is joining Qatari champions Lekhwiya in January.

Tresor Mputu (TP Mazembe)

The obscenely talented DR Congo and TP Mazembe captain, whose five goals helped him become the all-time top scorer in CAF club competitions with 41 goals, was once again the talisman. His productivity with either foot and ability to dupe defenders with all manners of deception certainly made him join Msakni in the crowd-pleasers peloton. His sparkling, I’m-too-good-for-this-level performance against Zamalek was football-affirming cool, and this caressed effort against Berekum Chelsea epitomised his absolute effortlessness modus operandi on the pitch.

Mohamed Nagy ‘Gedo’

Although Emmanuel Clottey was the competition’s top scorer with 10 goals, Gedo’s big-game cojones ultimately made him eclipse the Ghanaian to make this team. After the suspension of Aboutrika, Gedo had an extra burden to put the goals into the basket and, with 4 goals in 4 games in the semi final and final legs, his shoulders showed no sign of surrendering as he used the wily forward play that saw him finish top scorer at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.


Muteba Kidiaba  – A stunning shot stopper who seemed to produce a collector’s item every game. The pictures of him trudging off in tears against Esperance due to a shoulder injury were surely the most moving of the competition.

Wael Gomaa  – The veteran centre-back now has an astonishing 5 Champions League titles next to his name.  He may not be as mobile as he used to be but he still managed to turn on the style in the final and marshalled the robust Esperance forward Yannick N’Djeng to relative tranquillity in the finals.

Soloman Asante  – The pacey winger was overshadowed by team-mate Clottey’s pick-pocketing in front of goal but was one of the revelations of the competition in a dogged Berekum Chelsea side.

Walid Soliman  – A narrow omission from the starting XI, the effervescent left-winger impressed with his direct intrepid runs towards defences and scoring spectacular goals against Berekum Chelsea and in the final against Esperance.

Izu Azuka  – Provided the creativity and goals in a Sunshine Stars side that desperately lacked both of those facets. All-action displays against Esperance in the group stages ensured that the Tunisians acquired his services so they wouldn’t have toil against him in the future.

Emmanuel Clottey  – The Berekum Chelsea striker finished as the competition’s top scorer with 12 goals. Such was his impact that the Blood and Gold of Esperance dished out $1.5m, a new Ghanaian transfer record fee, for his services. Will he be an adequate replacement for Yannick N’Djeng (who is off to FC Sion)? You betcha.

Honorable mentions: Moaz Ben Cherifia, Mohamed Ben Mansour, Hichani Himoonde, Jean Kasusula, Alexis Mendomo, Hossam Ashour, Karim Ali Hadji, Al-Sayed Hamdy, Mohamed Ibrahim, Yannick N’Djeng, Mbwana Samata.

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