50. Cheick Diabate (Bordeaux/Mali) – Cheickmate! An impact sub at club level, it’s at international level where the lofty Malian has made a real impact, leading the line brilliantly for Les Aigles to diminish any hint of yearning for Fredi Kanoute since his retirement. One of the joint-top scorers at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations with 3 goals, what makes Diabate particularly likeable is his modus operandi on the football pitch; playing with unfettered joie de vivre. We won’t lie to you: he is not an extraordinary player, and probably never will be. But he does have a whiff of quality, and his limitations can be forgiven for he has the Cult Hero factor.
49. Rafik Djebbour (Olympiakos/Algeria) – It may be not the most politically correct moniker for an Arabic player, but Djebbour’s ‘The Terrorist’ is certainly accurate. The former Auxerre academician has recently found form, getting off to a particularly bright start in the 2012/13 campaign, scoring 13 goals in 12 games. Not only has he been more efficient in front of goal, but Djebbour’s link-up play has also drastically improved. Mysteriously, Rafik Djebbour has not figured in Vahid Halilhodzic’s plans for the upcoming Cup of Nations. A decision Algeria might come to regret considering their lack of experience in the attacking department.
48. Walid Soliman (Al Ahly & Egypt) – Often on the sidelines due to injury, the suspension of the Egyptian league has seen Soliman deliver very good outings in the CAF Champions League. The effervescent left-winger delivered one of the best individual performances in this season’s CL in Al Ahly’s 4-1 win over Berekum Chelsea, two stunning goals added substance in a performance ubiquitous with style. Whilst the ‘Egyptian Messi’ whispers are plain wrong, you could have been excused for thinking the match fell on Diwali as Soliman exploded like a firecracker. In the second leg of the CL final, he scored the see-you-later goal that typified his campaign and sealed Al Ahly’s poignant tale.
47. Hossam Ghaly (Al Ahly/Egypt) – It’s unfathomable to think Ghaly threw the Tottenham Hotspur to the ground and trudged off in his last act in North London, for his performances in the ruddish colours of Al Ahly exude leadership, determination and professionalism. Ghaly’s all-round midfield play was integral for the structural balance of Al Ahly as he skippered them to their 7th continental title. His well-timed surges and neat balls to the attacking quartet were a key idiosyncrasy of Al Ahly and culminated in some beautifully choreographed goals.
46. Victor Moses (Chelsea/Nigeria) – Billed as one of the most promising youngsters in the Premier League, Victor Moses has been truly sensational in 2012. The year started off in stunning fashion as the 22-year-old blistering performances on the flanks assured Wigan of another top-flight season. Moses’ pace, intricate dribbling and finesse proved out to be a nightmare for the opposing full-backs and it was only a matter of time before the nouveau-riche Chelsea came calling. Although he initially struggled for playing time, the Nigerian has now become a regular first-team player under Benitez and was also started his team’s all-important Club World Cup clash only some few weeks ago.
45. Kossi Agassa (Reims & Togo) – Africa is said to have pacy strikers, powerful holding midfielders, and technical forwards. But, rarely are the stereotypes ever as kind to the continent’s goalkeepers. The presumptions might be unfair, as the likes of Thomas Nkono, Bruce Grobbelaar, and Sadok ‘Attouga’ Sassi have all made their marks on goalkeeping history. While Kossi Agassa may never reach the heights of the aforementioned greats, he is certainly doing his part to mend the, perhaps, unfair negative stereotype harnessed to Africa’s keepers. ‘Magic Hands’ had been instrumental in seeing his storied club, Stade de Reims, promoted at the end of the 2011/12 season. Agassa has also started this campaign on the right track as L’Equipe have ranked Agassa second best keeper in the Ligue, trailing only Remy Vercoutre.
44. Dieumerci Mbokani (Anderlecht/DR Congo) – The Belgian Ebony Shoe winner for 2012 as he fired Anderlecht to another Belgian league title, and then helped DR Congo to their first Afcon qualification since 2006 with a brace in their 4-0 first-leg mutilation of Equatorial Guinea, a result that all but guaranteed their place in January’s centrepiece. This season, the Congolese striker has scored 22 goals in all competitions – the same number as Cristiano Ronaldo, only superhuman Lionel Messi has scored more goals than him. There are question marks whether the Congolese forward possesses the professionalism to succeed at a top club with a strict regime, but his phlegmatic finishing is far better than the Belgian league as he has proved in this season’s Champions League.
43. Mehdi Benatia (Udinese/Morocco) – It has been a frustrating last few months for Udinese’s centre-half. Between a deflating trip to Gabon for the Nations Cup 2012, and an exhausting list of recurring injuries, it’s a testament to Benatia’s ability that he even occupies a position on our list. When he did manage to string a few matches together, the Moroccan colossus has looked nothing short of imperious. At ease on the ball and ruthless in the tackle, not many get the better of Mehdi Benatia. Spanish tabloids linked him with a move to Catalan giants Barcelona in October. 2013 will be a year of redemption for Mehdi Benatia. He will contest his second ACN in as many years, and will also have the entire year to find his rhythm which could see his value rise and his dream move materialize.
42. Emmanuel Eboue (Galatasaray/Ivory Coast) – The alacrity-filled Ivorian’s move to Turkey, where his defensive frailties are under less scrutiny, in the summer of 2011 has given him a new lease of life as his attacking instincts have been embraced and he has flourished. Eboue has been given the freedom to freewheel forward at will and became a useful outlet of Galatasaray’s attacking game as they won the Turkish league for the first time in 4 years, scoring key goals and laying assists in the process.
41. Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese/Ghana) – As well as scoring the goal of the tournament, a blistering volley that rocketed into the top corner against Guinea, Agyemang-Badu was one of the outstanding players at the 2012 Cup of Nations. His ability to disrupt the rhythm of the opposition was unquestionable, and he drove the Black Stars forward with boundless energy and power. It was no wonder that Ghana missed him dearly as Zambia eliminated them semi-finals. At club level he has always had to exercise patience for Udinese. However, the departure of compatriot Kwadwo Asamoah to Juventus has finally given Agyemang-Badu an ascent to regular first-team action this season.
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