By Fiifi Anaman
The 2012 London Olympics men's football tournament saw four countries representing the African continent.
After a tough qualifying campaign, these sides made it through to the prestigious event to compete for the ultimate prize and a chance to emulate the great Nigerian side of Atlanta 1996 and the Cameroonean team of Sydney 2000.
Despite crashing out at various stages of the competition, Africa can still boast of talented players who stood out in the competition.
Goal.com takes a look at the top five African players worthy of plaudits.
|MOHAMMED ABOUTRIKA - Egypt|
The BA Philosophy holder was the most senior member of Egypt’s side. The playmaker, who has enjoyed an illustrious career so far - winning the Caf Champions League twice and the Afcon twice - is arguably Egypt’s greatest player of the past decade.
Throughout his career, he has grabbed important goals both at Al Ahly and at the national team level - 101 goals in 226 appearances for Ahly, and 27 goals in 81 caps for the Pharaohs. Aboutrika, a hugely respected figure not only in Egypt but Africa at large, has shown his worth on all stages culminating in multiple awards along the way.
In London, he recorded two goals and two assists, helping a vibrant Egyptian side to a quarter-final berth. The Giza-born legend was a key player for the young Pharoahs.
|ZAKARIA LABYAD - Morocco|
Labyad was the star man of his side. The former Dutch Under-17 player, was the creative genius of the team. Unfortunately they got eliminated so early. Labyad recently signed for Ricardo Sa Pinto's Sporting CP (Portugal) after an amazing season with PSV Eindhoven, where he scored 10 goals in 35 appearances. As a product of PSV's famous youth system, the 19-year-old has been one of the finest African players in London, with a goal in a 2-2 opening match draw against Honduras.
He has pace, creativity and goal scoring instincts which will surely be an asset in future competitions. The teenager, who wears the No. 7 shirt for the young Atlas Lions, is a friend of Barcelona’s Ibrahim Affellay, whom he spent time with at PSV, and cites him as an influence in his playing style.
|PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG - Gabon
Aubemeyang was Gabon's star man. After dazzling the world with his silky skills, and goals at the 2012 Afcon, he established himself in the African spotlight as a prodigious talent. The 23-year-old St Etienne forward enjoyed a breakthrough season in the Ligue 1 last season, scoring a highly impressive 16 goals.
He is a revered figure in Gabonese football, and has been touted as fellow compatriot Daniel Cousin's successor. The player many have branded a “'Neymar look-alike” did incredibly well, especially scoring in a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in the opening game. St Etienne's No. 7 was a standout performer, even though Gabon only made a group stage exit. The AC Milan youth team product is most definitely another exciting African to watch for the future.
|MOHAMED SALAH - Egypt
Salah is currently Egypt's brightest young prospect. Dubbed ''the Egyptian Messi'' he is the most highly rated player of their Under-23 Olympic team. Equipped with a lethal left foot, blistering pace and dribbling finesse, Salah plays as a striker and sometimes a winger; where he's noted for cutting in and causing pure havoc. The 20-year-old spent his early professional career at Egyptian outfit Arab Contractors, where he recorded 11 goals and three assists in 38 matches.
He has been a revelation in London, firing three goals in his first three matches, against hot favourites Brazil, New Zealand and Belarus. So far, he has been a standout performer, being excitingly lively in all four games he was involved in, highlighting not only his goals, but his speed and dribbling skill against proven defenders like Marcelo and Thiago Silva. He is the future of Egyptian football.
|PAPE MOUSSA KONATE - Senegal
The Senegalese has been the undisputed discovery in London, notching up four goals in his first three games, including a stunning double against a star-studded Uruguay side. He is undoubtedly the most outstanding (African) performer. Konate boasts of five goals in a tournament that has Neymar, Cavani, Suarez, Pato amongst others.
The 19-year-old was the spine behind the success story of Senegalese club ASC Toure Kunda de Mbour that rose to prominence in 2010 as they got promoted to the top division, and clinched the Senegalese FA Cup, which handed them an appearance in the 2011 Caf Confederations Cup. He is a well-built and powerful player with a deadly eye for goal.