World Cup play-offs: Best XI
The outstanding players from the second leg of qualification.
Boubacar Barry: Although Ivory Coast boast some physically towering players, they seemed pale in comparison to the superbeasts in the Senegalese team. Barry’s calm management of the airways was crucial at set-piece situations, often gathering the ball into his arms.
Stephane Badji: Stephane Badji was deployed as a rightback; a foreign position for the midfielder. Yet he still managed to provide width and depth as the Teranga Lions assaulted a shaky Ivorian defence.
Madjid Bougherra: “Magic” was tasked with policing the devilish Pitroipa who was employed in an unfamiliar position as a false nine. Bougherra won the first few duels emphatically and set the tone. Only a suicidal (or, perhaps homicidal) tackle on Kabore detracted from a stellar performance that was capped off with a decisive goal.
Didier Zokora: ‘Maestro’ didn’t initially convince the doubters he could play at the heart of defence, but his performances in these play-offs now makes him mandatory in the Ivorian defence. With Ivory Coast essentially pinned back in their own half for the entire game, Zokora was superb at putting out fire after fire with his excellent penalty-box anticipation.
Faouzi Ghoulam: Ghoulam continued his effervescent form in Ligue 1 with a excellent display in Blida on Tuesday evening. The Saint-Etienne leftback was part of a clean sheet attaining defense, but also chipped in with his accurate crossing and havoc-wreaking set-pieces. Notched a vital assist.
Ogenyi Onazi: Enormous belief has been shown in the 20-year-old by coach Stephen Keshi in the past year, and he has shown why in recent months with steady improvement that has culminated in a rich vein of form. Against Ethiopia he was easily passing the ball down and always ready to receive the ball; his maturity and composure on the ball was one of the few highlights in a dour match.
Jean II Makoun: The brace for the experienced midfielder was apt given the “II” in his name; it came in the city he was born in; and it sent his country to the World Cup. Not bad. Doubts remain whether he’s too like-for-like with his fellow midfielders but he’s proving to be a wily user of the ball with a useful knack of getting into the right positions in the box.
Idrissa Gueye: Some players you tend to fall in love with after watching for but a few minutes. Gueye is such a pure footballer that it is categorically impossible to dislike his style. The Lille midfielder put in an all-round performance and it is unfortunate he is missing out next summer.
Sadio Mane: Alain Giresse opted for Sadio Mane over Henri Saivet for Cote D’Ivoire and it was a decision that paid dividends. The Red Bull Salzburg winger tortured Gosso Gosso time and time again on the left flank and the Elephants were lucky to escape unscathed.
Benjamin Moukandjo: Many expected much-needed width in the Cameroon team to be provided by Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, so to see Moukandjo, who plays for Ligue 2 side Nancy, start instead was a surprise. He vindicated Volker Finke’s decision to start him though with an intrepid first half display and good solo effort which made the Indomitable Lions really start to dream.
Samuel Eto’o: Keen to ensure Cameroon didn’t fail to qualify for three major tournaments in a row, the Chelsea striker was in inspired form. His aura transmitted through to the whole side as he lackadaisically roamed all over the pitch to try and make things happen. Most observers would prefer to see him playing as the leading striker and ‘poach’ goals, but he’s clearly far more creative than your average poacher.
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