Goal pieces together the players who worked hardest to dignify Africa in Brazil.
The 2014 Fifa World Cup is steadily drawing to a close, with only the medal places - between Germany, Argentina, Brazil, and the Netherlands - left to be decided.
African participation - with the elimination of Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, and Ghana after the group phase of matches, followed by Algeria's and Nigeria's exit a round later - has long ended, however, and Goal finds it fitting to compose a Best XI from the individuals who excelled in the colours of the continent's representatives.
Vincent Enyeama and Raïs M'Bolhi were both huge reasons why their respective nations - Nigeria and Algeria - reached the World Cup's Round of 16, The former nicks that starting spot in goal ahead of the CSKA Sofia goalkeeper, however, but only just. A string of stunning saves throughout Nigeria's campaign - and especially against the French - raised highly-rated Enyeama's fine reputation a few notches and, although it was his gaffe that gifted France's Paul Pogba the strike which set Les Bleus on their way to the quarter-finals, Enyeama deserves his plaudits nonetheless. If, for good reason, one opts to rob him of such acclaim and hand it to M'Bolhi, who's to say that wouldn't be fair?
If ever Serge Aurier - never mind the fact that Frenchman Mathieu Debuchy now appears to have overtaken him - was considered by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as replacement for departed right-back Bacary Sagna, the 21-year-old's performances at the 2014 Fifa World Cup for Cote d'Ivoire clearly showed why. Aurier was a livewire for the Ivorians going forward, glittering especially in Les Elephants' Group C opener against Japan, with his two precise crosses - within two second-half minutes - helping overturn a 1-0 deficit. He might not be joining the Gunners anytime soon but, mark these words, Aurier wouldn't be with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse for long, such is his quality as proven in Brazil.
On the left, Kwadwo Asamoah - that lovable playmaker who has spent much of the last couple of years as a decent full-back for club and country - rather unwittingly showed why being consistently played out of position doesn't exactly qualify to be regarded as one of Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah's well-documented tactical foibles. Considering how well he performed even in an unnatural role, it is quite frightening to imagine just what could have been had Asamoah been granted a more suitable spot in a Ghanaian midfield that often seemed out of its creative depth.
Floating between the two laterals and acting as cover for Enyeama are Jonathan Mensah (Ghana) and Rafik Halliche (Algeria). Mensah - the third France-based footballer named thus far in this team - was a figure of composure and confidence in central defence for Ghana, even as he partnered comical John Boye who had a hand - directly or otherwise - in about half the goals that the Black Stars conceded during their short-lived adventure. Mensah, overall, wasn't too extraordinary but, having done the simple things so well, he certainly was the man who ensured Boye's big-stage jitters didn't do Ghana greater harm. Assuming it really didn't.
Halliche, by some distance, was far more spectacular. Featuring for 90 minutes - and, on occasion, in excess of that - in all of Algeria's four games at the Mundial, the Academica de Coimbra defender was an absolute colossus for Vahid Halilhodzic's side and proved especially immense in the absence of skipper Madjid Bougherra as Algeria held out for a favorable 1-1 draw with Russia to book a place in the knockout rounds. And when that date, against Germany, was due, Halliche didn't disappoint, did he? Was it purely co-incidental that the Germans never truly found their breakthrough until the Algiers-born's injury-prompted substitution in extra-time?
At the base of midfield, Ghanaian Rabiu Mohammed - probably the most underrated member of the Black Stars' original squad of 23 - helped paper over what defensive cracks Ghana might have had, doing so tidily yet in his own admirably self-effacing style and making it even harder to justify his late subbing offs in each of Ghana's group games by coach Appiah.
In a more advanced midfield role, Yacine Brahimi impressed for Algeria, having moved from being a fringe player who missed several of Les Fennecs' pre-World Cup games - as well as the opening 2-1 loss to Belgium in Group H - to one who starred in Africa's top-ranked team's fairytale story. Brahimi's finest hour at the tournament arguably came against South Korea, with his fine 62nd minute finish adding flourish to a 4-2 win.
It did take some tough wrestling for Super Eagle Ahmed Musa to shrug Cote d'Ivoire's Gervinho off for the berth on the right wing - and, boy, did he show some fight! Musa, employed at club level by Russian outfit CSKA Moscow, nearly tore up the script that was supposed to be Lionel Messi's one-man show when Nigeria faced Argentina in the final Group F game which sealed qualification for both sides. For a while, Musa actually matched Messi's genius, scoring barely a minute (speaking strictly statistically) after each of the Argentine's two goals. Against the best, the occasionally frustrating Musa came good. Satisfactorily lively as he was in Nigeria's other matches, Musa's ticket to this XI was largely earned on the back of that great individual display.
Manning the other flank is Ghana's Andre Ayew, another two-goal hero albeit one whose pair of strikes were registered in different matches. Ayew's goals breathed life into his country's two opening group fixtures at stages when both seemed all but lost. His leadership traits - seen in his frequent rousing of teammates and fans alike - were also evident, thus making a genuine claim for Ghana's captain's armband if ever the next man on this list forfeits it for some reason.
The man being referred to is Asamoah Gyan and, after the Al Ain forward's exploits in Brazil, his name has got a newly acquired, wholly exciting ring to it. And why not? Gyan's fifth and sixth World Cup goals - scored against Germany and Portugal respectively - took him level, and then beyond, Cameroonian Roger Milla as Africa's all-time topscorer at the Mundial. A bright silver lining, definitely, in what proved a thoroughly underwhelming campaign for the west Africans.
Playing off the 'Baby Jet' is Islam Slimani, the young attacker whose form throughout the qualifiers - five goals in seven games - translated nicely at the world finals in two well-taken goals, as many man-of-the-match prizes, plus some fine build-up play that helped propel Algeria past the World Cup's group rounds for the first time.