The Three-Headed Dragon: Brahimi, Marega, Aboubakar powering Porto

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Porto look set to halt the cold, ruthless procession of Benfica titles, and it is their African trio at the frontline fighting back with fire


COMMENT    By Solace Chukwu      Follow on Twitter
 

It is not exactly Ma-Gi-Ca — it lacks a certain subtlety, for one thing; and for another, it doesn't conjure up the same enthrallment as the trio of Maradona, Giordano and Careca did for the legendary Napoli side of the late 80s — but FC Porto's trio of Marega, Aboubakar and Brahimi looks to be powering them to a first title in five years.

Of course, the fact that this is Porto does take some of the romance out of the story. Being the second most successful side in Portugal makes it somewhat impossible to relate to the scale and portent of what Gli Azzurri were trying to achieve in that era: following a first-ever Scudetto with sustained dominance.

There is also the small matter of the sheer level of its individual components.

Diego Maradona may have been the headline act: one of the best players ever, a World Cup winner with Argentina, and the world's most expensive footballer twice over when he moved to Italy from Barcelona; but in Bruno Giordano, Napoli had snapped up a former Serie A top scorer, while Careca was considered one of the world's foremost strikers of his day.

Diego Maradona Napoli

Porto cannot boast of the same level of player, unsurprisingly, even though all three of their African players have been nominated for Caf's African Footballer of the Year award.

Yacine Brahimi is the most gifted of the trio, a former BBC African Player of the Year and much feted for his creativity and close-control dribbling. Both Moussa Marega and Vincent Aboubakar, however, are slightly untidy forwards technically, all scuffs and awkwardness, but are nonetheless hitting unprecedented levels of productivity.

Marega is an interesting study, being a late bloomer, as well as a worthy addition to the Malian tradition of swarthy, physically impressive footballers. The 26-year-old was playing in the third tier of French football as recently as 2014 (by which time Aboubakar was making his second appearance at a World Cup) and looked decidedly unremarkable before moving to Maritimo in the winter of 2015.

It was there that he seemed to spontaneously burst into flame, scoring 15 times for the Madeira-based club in that calendar year and convincing Porto to take the plunge. Hardly an instant hit at Estadio do Dragao, the impressively-nicknamed 'Terminator' was farmed out, and spent a similarly prolific season on loan at Vitoria Guimaraes last term.

Now he's back.

Moussa Marega & Vincent Aboubakar of FC Porto

Aboubakar, for his part, was considered something of a prodigy when he was included in the Cameroon squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, aged just 18. At Lorient, whom he joined in 2013, his pace and cool finishing (ironic, as he now often seems to make a dog's dinner of relatively simple chances) set him on the path to 16 Ligue 1 goals in his first, and only, season with Les Merlus.

If there is a common thread that seems to run through all three, it is the need to redeem themselves.

It may be firing now, but against all appearances attesting, this trio was not exactly a crack squad purpose-built for a title assault. Brahimi caught flak for much of last season from the Porto faithful for making no secret of his desire to move on to bigger things, while both Marega and Aboubakar spent last season out on loan, the latter in Turkey with title-winning Besiktas, for whom he averaged a goal every other game.

It is this sense that the club was not quite convinced that appears to be powering them.

Yacine Brahimi Porto

Together, they have combined for 20 of The Dragons' 28-goal total in the league; Aboubakar and Marega have eight apiece in the opening 10 league games, far and above their regular averages.

Pace and physically upfront, and trickery to spring them from wide: it is hardly the tactical avant-garde, but it is working a treat, not just in raw output numbers, but by synergism.

All three were on the scoresheet at the weekend as Boavista were put to the sword, but perhaps the greatest distillation of their centrality to Porto's season so far is to be found in the Champions League. They stunned reigning French champions and last season's Champions League semi-finalists at Stade Louis II on Matchday 2, running out 3-0 winners.

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Aboubakar helped himself to a brace, and while the first was a messy, three-take affair, the second was perfectly microcosmic: Brahimi with a fantastic bit of dribbling to create a yard of space, a raking pass over the top to spring Marega on the counter, searing pace from the Malian to reach it and square across the box, the Cameroonian with the first-time finish.

For all their individual ability, the forward line of Maradona, Giordano and Careca would ultimately disappoint: failing to impress in the European Cup, and bottling the title in 1988.

They make lack the fantasy element of Ma-Gi-Ca, but the sheer simplicity of the Brahimi-Aboubakar-Marega dynamic might well be enough to go one better, and actually deliver a much sought-after title.

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