The African wing of SFG returns with their latest cohort of players as the countdown continues from 40 to 31. Resident writers Maher Mezahi and Salim Masoud Said are joined by regular contributors Lotfi Wada and Jimmy Aidoo.
40. Wahbi Khazri
Bordeaux (FRA) / Tunisia / Winger
Year in and year out, Wahbi Khazri has consistently performed in Ligue 1 and he is finally receiving the plaudits he’s due at club level. At Bastia and then at Bordeaux, Khazri was initially overshadowed by bigger names like Ryad Boudebouz or Diego Rolan, but the Tunisian’s consistent output has rendered him a star in l’hexagone.
Khazri is now a recognised leader for both his club and national team. His teammates look to get him on the ball as often as possible and for good reason.Comfortable on either flank but especially behind the striker, Khazri has augmented his goals and assists tally in 2015.
In the last calendar year the 25-year-old scored a remarkable 13 goals and provided 12 assists – a total that surpasses Yacine Brahimi, Sofiane Feghouli, Yassine Chikhaoui, and Gervinho.
Highlight of the Year: Crucifying Paris Saint-Germain
Last March, Khazri scored a goal and and created another as Bordeaux beat Paris Saint-Germain at Parc des Princes. Khazri’s scintillating performance was especially impressive when considering that Paris Saint-Germain have not lost a league match since. MM
39. El Arbi Hillel Soudani
Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) / Algeria / Striker
After that heartwarming round of 16 tie against Germany in the 2014 World Cup, most Algerian international receive the praise they’re due. Hilal Soudani remains the exception despite emerging as a veteran figure for Les Fennecs.
Very few players leave Algeria with the reputation Soudani had back in 2011. After leading the league in scoring in consecutive seasons, and captaining his modest side – ASO Chlef – to its first league title, Soudani left to Vitoria Guimares for €600,000.
Since then Soudani’s gone from strength to strength, building on his experience to incrementally increase his combined goals and assists tally in his five seasons in Europe. 2015 was particularly kind to Soudani, especially with the Algerian national team. He’s the top scorer in 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying with four goals, and scored in the quarter-final of the AFCON back in January.
Soudani is not an out-and-out striker. The Chlef native plays on either wing or as a spearhead. He can mix up guileful dribbling with a killer instinct that makes him a match-up problem for any adversary.
Soudani’s near future is most captivating as pundits predict he will move to a major European league this summer. At the age of 28, he is now hitting his prime and would be ready to enjoy his most fruitful campaigns to date.
Highlight of the Year: Performances in AFCON 2017 qualifying
Soudani netted braces against Seychelles and Lesotho and now leads all players in scoring during to these 2017 AFCON qualifiers. MM
38. Vincent Enyeama
Lille (FRA) / Nigeria / Goalkeeper
“I have fought a good fight for more than 13 years. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith and sang the anthem with passion,” were Vincent Enyeama’s preceding statements as he took to the social media outlet Instagram (@vinny2908) to announce his decision to call time on his international career – albeit prematurely – after a spat with Super Eagles coach, Sunday Oliseh in October 2015.
It was a decision that was met with anger and empathy in almost equal measure. Both sides of the divide at least agreeing on one thing: the Lille shot-stopper’s retirement from the national team was a sad development and he will be sorely missed by fans of the Super Eagles.
Nigeria’s most capped player (101 caps) deputized for substantive captain Joseph Yobo who, for most parts, was virtually part of the furniture in South Africa in Afcon 2013. The turn of events meant that Enyeama lifted Nigeria’s 3rd continental title, brushing off Burkina Faso while keeping a clean-sheet in the process.
Typically, he chose the biggest stage on which to perform when he auditioned for a role in the FIFA world XI at the 2010 World Cup with a series of top class saves in Nigeria’s opening game against South American giants, Argentina – which many, with the benefit of hindsight, termed a Messi v Enyeama contest. His desire, agility and sense of awareness gave Nigeria another opportunity to live again and kept the scoreline at a respectable 1-0.
Over the last 12 months, his performances for Lille OSC have been nothing short of amazing. His numbers are so impressive. He’s grossed a total of 111 appearances for Lille (as at 17th January, 2016), keeping 47 clean-sheets along the way.
Highlight of the Year: Continuation of good form
Irrepressible and at most times irresistible, Enyeama’s fierce determination and will to win knows no bounds. To Lille supporters he is one of their own, and to Nigerian fans he is a true local hero. JA
37. Ammar Jemal
Etoile du Sahel (TUN) / Tunisia / Centre Back
2015 was an excellent year for ‘The General’ Ammar Jemal at both international or club level.
On the international aspect Jemal unfortunately failed to make the cut for Les Aigles de Carthage’s squad at AFCON 2015. A blessing in disguise for the Etoile du Sahel defender? It probably was, as the towering figure finally made a comeback to his national team against the Lone Stars of Liberia to establish and seal a spot for the crucial double encounter against Mauritania where he helped Tunisia to avoid a very embarrassing exit to Les Mourabitounes.
On the other hand, Jemal found consistency again with his boyhood club Etoile du Sahel and led them to a second league spot and winning the Tunisian and the African grail. It was a continental campaign which was extremely successful for Jemal as he scored five goals (two of them in the final) and was one of the major reasons for El Hamra’s defensive solidity during their route to the trophy.
Highlight of the Year: CAF Confederation Cup final
Arguably Jemal’s best performance on Etoile’s road to win their second CAF Confederation Cup in Johannesburg where his team was 1-0 down in the hands of Orlando Pirates. General Ammar would score a crucial away goal minutes before the final whistle for Fawzi Benzarti’s side days before the return leg in the den of Sousse.
Moments after, Jemal, in his usual style, promised that he would score in Sousse and seal the title. And his vision was prophetic.The General kept to his word and scored (again) the goal which kept the trophy in Sousse and kept at bay Pirates’ strikers. LW
36. Ahmed Musa
CSKA Moscow (RUS) / Nigeria / Winger
While the main accusation of Musa in the past used to be, and in many ways still is, that he is too chaotic when it comes to the decisions he makes in key attacking areas, there is no doubt that the business side to his game has thoroughly improved in the last couple of years.
Usually deployed on the left wing, Musa is a blistering quick winger with ice-cool finishing in front of goal, with the latter strength horned through the forward role he has played for CSKA Moscow as an emergency and, when he proved to excel beyond being just a stop-gap, as a second option. The intermittent spells in that position have done no harm to the sharpening of his attacking instincts. As CSKA sit top of the Russian League he also sits on the goal-scoring leaderboard as their top goalscorer with six goals to his name.
With over 50 caps to his name for the Super Eagles, added with the retirement of Vincent Enyeama, Musa is now Nigeria’s best and most reliable player at international level. He has matched the hype that he showed in the international youth football and as captain of the national team he can now use the opportunity to grow from someone who has been a little understated – largely because of bigger personalities in the team – to the fulcrum of the team.
Highlight of the Year: Being named as Nigeria captain
The CSKA Moscow winger was named captain of the Super Eagles in October. It was easy to understand Oliseh’s reasoning: that, at 23, he has bags of experience and several years left to give to the Super Eagles. SMS
35. Serey Die
VfB Stuttgart (GER) / Ivory Coast / Defensive Midfielder
In accordance with his name, he delivered performances to Die for and was instrumental to Ivory Coast’s victory at AFCON 2015. A prolific fouler and regularly high tackler, El Gladiator personifies the thin line between passion and thuggishness and, in a tournament where referees are far more lenient than their European counterparts, he stretched the rules to the brim.
Due to the system they largely played – 3-5-2 – the Elephants were often out-numbered in the middle of the field. But Die did the dirty work and hard running for an unfit, lethargic and more creative midfield partner in Yaya Toure, insofar that the disadvantage never became a major hindrance to their operations.
The shining performance came in the quarter-final clash with Algeria, where he took advantage of the referee’s reluctance to brandish yellow cards to nullify the fleet-footed venom of Yacine Brahimi. He sealed a move to VfB Stuttgart after the tournament and his all-action performances saw them escape relegation and have seen him quickly become a fan’s favourite.
Highlight of the Year: Stifling Yacine Brahimi
Stepping up to take his penalty in the final and looking like a man who had already missed through posture, demeanour, run-up and shooting technique, but somehow converting? The nutmeg on Georges Mandjeck just in front of his own penalty area? Some strong highlights. But the highlight has to be the performance against Algeria where he man-marked Brahimi out of the game. He capped it off by winning the ball in his own penalty area deep in injury time before releasing the ball for Ivory Coast to get a breakaway goal. SMS
34. Asamoah Gyan
Shanghai SIPG (CHI) / Ghana / Striker
With public consensus – based on evidence of dwindling form and fitness – steadily adding up to the verdict that Ghana skipper Asamoah Gyan’s career as a Black Star is turning to the latter pages, the signs are that it probably is.
On only three goals for the country in 12 months and fewer minutes than before, Gyan may as well be working on his handing-over notes and grand retirement speech. He could still hit that landmark of 50 international goals, of course, and become only the fourth African to reach that tally. And, should he even call it quits today, the ‘Baby Jet’ goes down as the African goalscorer whose worth has been pronounced strongest at FIFA World Cups, his numbers towering above anyone else’s.
Having spent his best years hidden away in the Orient seeking the easy life of footballers in those parts and only occasionally stinging the world’s consciousness when a big tournament comes around, Gyan appears to have done just about enough to earn the entire planet’s respect.
In his sunnier days in England 2010/2011 season, Gyan had the world sit up to admire his striking prowess after a wonderful start. He pranced about in the red-and-white jersey of Sunderland with a strong leap, an eye for the spectacular, blistering speed and there weren’t many goalkeepers who felt comfortable behind their defences with Gyan lurking around the box.
For Al-Ain in Qatar, the Baby Jet’s numbers were simply Messi-esque form in four years, scoring 95 goals in 83 league matches. This prompted big spending Chinese club Shanghai SIPG to come calling with a mouth-watering offer and his goal rush has continued there.
Highlight of the Year: Winner versus Algeria
Cheers go up anytime the reasonably prolific striker pulls on the national jersey. He’s got an ability to wave the magic wand and bail the team out when it’s in dire straits… like the last minute winner against Algeria in AFCON 2015. JA
33. Baghdad Bounedjah
Etoile du Sahel / Algeria / Striker
When coach Vahid Halilhodzic first came to Algeria he berated the national press for carouseling the same household names and not paying enough attention to young up-and-comers. When pressed for examples, Halilhodzic answered that he knew of a star that no one in the press was talking about. Sure enough, Baghdad Bounedjah was called up several days later.
It didn’t take long for Bounedjah to make a name for himself in Algeria. Within two years he earned himself a move to the well-heeled Tunisian league. There, he led all players in goals scored in consecutive seasons. However, disciplinary issues tarred his reputation. Bounedjah missed an incredible seven matches per season due to suspension. His first major suspension was issued after he made an obscene gesture, the second for fighting.
Bounedjah’s explosive temper might have also delayed his debut with Les Fennecs. This season, though, a more mature Bounedjah was on show. For the first time in a couple years, the striker fans have dubbed ‘The Bison’ was not sanctioned lengthily, and he helped his club ES Sahel win the CAF Confederation Cup.
Bounedjah was also shortlisted as African Inter-Club Player of the Year at the GLO-CAF awards, and he made the African XI. As the accolades rain in on Bounedjah one might suspect that the next step in his career would be a move to Europe, but last summer he signed with Qatari giants, Al-Sadd, for €5m. Uncertainty shrouds Bounedjah’s 2016 as all eyes hone in on the young Algerian supernova.
Highlight of the Year: Finally winning a major title with ES Sahel
One condition outlined in ES Sahel’s sale of Bounedjah to Al-Sadd was an immediate loan back, as the Tunisian titans looked to win an African title. Bounedjah also wanted to leave the club with honours in tow, and he managed to do just that, helping his teammates to the CAF Confederation Cup. MM
32. Stephane M’Bia
Trabzonspor (TUR) / Cameroon / Defensive Midfielder
Just like at the World Cup, Stephane M’Bia was among one of the few Cameroon players, perhaps along with only Aurelien Chedjou, to leave the tournament with his reputation enhanced.
It was expected that he would start the tournament at centre back after his disciplined and diligent performances during qualifying, but when Chedjou came back into the fold M’Bia was moved to his preferred position in the maelstrom of midfield.
The nature and standard of his performances did not dwindle despite that last-minute switch. He was typically tenacious and energetic throughout the games, giving Cameroon that battling quality even though the majority of their players, and their manager, froze under the pressure of major tournaments.
He continued his revival at Sevilla by battling his way to another Europa League title, making it back-to-back titles after the crown in 2014. His summer move to Trabzonspor was strictly based on the money, but you can count on the versatile midfielder to always not shirk responsibility in the big games and tournaments even if he has moved to a relatively lower level.
Highlight of the Year: Winning the Europa League
Back-to-back Europa League titles after a poor spell at QPR. A QPR friend of mine regards M’Bia’s time at the club so lowly that he refuses to say his name. SMS
31. Rainford Kalaba
TP Mazembe (DRC) / Zambia / Attacking Midfielder
He may have been overshadowed by a handful of players at TP Mazembe this season, but the man known as ‘The Master’ – for his artistry with the ball – still continues to be one of Africa’s best match-winners.
In a TP Mazembe team that can often be predictable, Rainford Kalaba offers the dynamism which allows him to constantly be able to situate himself on either wing or through the middle, giving his side a semblance of unpredictability during the course of games.
It is his game-winning cojones which adds so much to his team. The manifestation of this ability ability came in the first leg of the African champions league final when his stunning opening goal rattled USM Alger. His twinkle-toes and razzle-dazzle on the ball are well known, but on this occasion he unleashed a terrific long range strike which flew past Mohamed Zemmamouche in the USM goal. It was a fitting goal to set himself on the way to winning the continental club crown which had eluded him for four years.
Highlight of the Year: Spectacular effort in the Champions League final
One of the goals of the year. The goal took Kalaba’s tally to four goals in the 2015 CL and helped him finish as the joint fourth top scorer. SMS