By Sammie Frimpong
Forget the optimism that has swept over Africa in the build-up to the 2014 Fifa World Cup; there are still a few more years to go before an African side stakes a genuine claim for Mundial glory.
Cherry-pick the best footballers there are in the squads of the five nations representing the continent in Brazil - Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire, Algeria, and Cameroon - though, and it is quite easy drawing up a team that could readily take on the world and prove successful. Here is a preview:
In goal, Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria) beats off competition from Cote d'Ivoire's Boubacar Barry. Lille's Enyeama, whose performances illuminated the French Ligue 1 in 2013-14, easily qualifies as Africa's safest pair of hands at the moment, having overseen a victorious Nations Cup campaign with Nigeria as well as a successful Fifa World Cup qualification series.
Shielding the 31-year-old are two generations of solid centre-backs: Godfrey Oboabona, 23, of Nigeria, alongside veteran Algeria skipper Madjid Bougherra. The former, currently employed by Turkish outfit Caykur Rizespor, has provided excellent cover throughout Nigeria's recent international successes [as highlighted in Enyeama's profile] and isn't afraid to bomb forward when required to. Majestic Bougherra has pivoted the core on which Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic has built a fairly youthful and entertaining unit which has secured, in the process, successive Fifa World Cup tickets for the Maghrebi state. Thus in that pair, Africa boasts the ideal balance of old and new in the heart of defence.
Manning either wing is a player who represents the dynamic present and promising future of the African game: Kwadwo Asamoah (Ghana) on the left, Serge Aurier (Cote d'Ivoire) on the right. Originally, Asamoah thrives in the middle of the pitch as he often does to devastating effect for the Black Stars. Having proven himself so admirably as a left wingback for Antonio Conte's Juventus over the last two seasons, however, 'Asabob' should have few qualms slotting into a similar role for this 'Dream Team'. Aurier, on the other flank, has excelled with Toulouse in France, and his performances already have him on the brink of being recruited by English side Arsenal as cover for the departing Bacary Sagna, while he has also supplanted Ivorian regular Emmanuel Eboue in Les Elephants' setup.
Former Chelsea team-mates John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien (Ghana) slug it out for a starting role at the base of midfield. And while Mikel might be the younger and more attractive prospect at present, Essien's telling record of experience and reputation edges him just ahead. Nothing like an old, composed head in the thick of affairs, you'd concur.
Partnering 'Le Bison' is Manchester City heartbeat Yaya Toure (Cote d'Ivoire), arguably the finest goalscoring midfielder in the whole of Europe. Somewhat reminiscent of a younger Essien, Toure's drive and ability to propel a team forward - with his goals, power play, and assists - have been all too evident in the ongoing revolution at Eastlands, and has also glowed brightly even amidst Cote d'Ivoire's current crop of illustrious international footballers. It isn't too difficult imagining him doing same for our fantasy XI is it?
Such a side also requires strong, pacy, tough-to-beat footballers attacking from the margins and, in Andre Ayew (Ghana) and Gervinho (Cote d'Ivoire), that need is more than adequately catered for. Improving by the year, Ayew is inching ever closer to becoming for Olympique Marseille and his country what his famous father, Abedi 'Pele' Ayew, was for both during his own glittering playing career. Gervinho, on the other hand, has enjoyed something of a renaissance since transferring from Arsenal to AS Roma in summer of 2013, rising to become one of I Lupi's better players under manager Rudi Garcia.
For the lead role upfront, there were at least three highly eligible candidates to pick from: Didier Drogba (Cote d'Ivoire), Samuel Eto'o Fils (Cameroon), and Ghana's Asamoah Gyan. In the end, though, the latter earns the spot simply because of his superior scoring record at Fifa World Cups (no African, save Roger Milla, has scored more than Gyan in the tournament's history) and also that, unlike the other two, the Al Ain forward is hardly in the twilight of his career, given his current form for club and country.
As it was with the slot of primary striker on this team, there is a wealth of talent auditioning for the supporting cast's role. Any one of Wilfried Bony (Cote d'Ivoire), Abdul Majeed Waris (Ghana), and Cameroon's Vincent Aboubakar would make for a fine partner for Gyan, with all three having enjoyed hugely impressive goalscoring exploits for their respective clubs in the recently concluded European football season. When push comes to shove, though - as it obviously has here - Bony seems the best alternative, for he features and excels in what is still regarded by many as the world's finest league for Swansea City (Waris and Aboubakar were, as at the last matches they played at club level, turning out for sides in France's elite division).
For substitutes, there are a flurry of names who missed out on the XI above only by fine margins - Drogba, Eto'o, Mikel, Barry, Soufiane Feghouli, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sulley Muntari, Kenneth Omeruo, Victor Moses, Nicolas Nkoulou, Joel Matip et al - who would stand in good stead to represent Africa in one efficient, sparkling unit any day.