By Sammie Frimpong
2013 has certainly been a fulfilling and action-packed year for African football. Some of the continent's brightest talents have glittered at major international competitions and for their individual clubs, and Goal compiles an end-of-year best XI, featuring some usual faces and a few surprise inclusions.
Lille custodian Vincent Enyeama trumps any other candidate there might be for a starting berth in goal, having enjoyed an amazing 2013. The 31-year-old, who was first-choice goalkeeper during Nigeria's Africa Cup of Nations triumph at the beginning of the year, played a key role in securing the Super Eagles a ticket to next year's World Cup, and also strung together an impressive run of 11 games this season without concession for his French club. The duration of that streak of continuous shut-outs - 1062 minutes - was just 114 shy of the all-time Ligue 1 record.
In defence, three of Africa’s youngest and finest team up to form a rearguard as imposing and impregnable as the Kilimanjaro. Daniel Opare and Nicholas N'Koulou might not have enjoyed overly successful stints at club level with Standard Liege and Olympique Marseille respectively, but both did prove immense in assisting their respective nations, Ghana and Cameroon, to qualify for Brazil 2014. The pair are joined by centre-back Godfrey Oboabona who, as arguably the jewel among a mass of local players privileged to be picked by coach Stephen Keshi as part of Nigeria's contingent to South Africa 2013, helped the west African country to Afcon success and earned himself a transfer to Turkish side Caykur Rizespor later in the year.
The midfield positions were keenly contested, too; so keenly, in fact, that quite a few excelling performers over the last 12 months did not even make it. There can be few qualms, though, about the quintet that did. Kenya's Victor Wanyama would easily hold the fort as enforcer in this team, having performed so outstandingly in that spot for Scotland's Celtic whom he helped to a 44th SPL title and also contributing to one of the Bhoys' most memorable Champions League campaigns in recent history. A move across the border to join England's Southampton for £12.5 million in the summer made Wanyama the most expensive player to be sold by a Scottish club and also the first Kenyan (and East African) to play in the English Premier League. He was also appointed captain for the Harambee Stars in the course of the year. Three of the other four selected midfielders - Mikel Obi (Chelsea, Nigeria), Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus, Ghana), and Mohamed Aboutreika (Al Ahly, Egypt) - claimed a glut of major pieces of silverware between them, including the Scudetto, the Italian Super Cup, the Caf Champions League, the Europa League, and a Nations Cup winners' medal. The fifth, winger Mohamed Salah, enjoyed a similarly exciting year, the highlight of which were three goals scored against Chelsea -traditionally one of Europe's tightest defensive sides - in continental action for FC Basel. And though those strikes eventually counted for little in the competitions in which he scored them, he did help his club reach as far as the last four of last season's Europa League. For his country, Egypt, Salah struck a joint chart-topping six goals in an ultimately fruitless World Cup qualifying campaign.
Upfront, Fenerbahce forward Emmanuel Emenike - winner of the Golden Boot at Afcon 2013 with four goals and scorer of another three that helped seal Nigeria's place at the next Fifa World Cup - forms a potent two-pronged attack with Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan whose exploits for Al Ain fetched him topscoring rights for a second successive season in the UAE Pro League, while he was also awarded for scoring the most goals in the entire region of Arabia. Gyan also enjoyed an incredible year for Ghana, celebrating a decade in the Black Stars' shirt with a starring role in the team's successful Brazil 2014 qualification quest, scoring six goals which shot him further up Ghana's table of all-time finishers.
Among those who also did well in the year under review yet who missed out simply because we could only pick eleven are Adam Kwarasey, Sunday Mba, Itumeleng Khune, Yaya Toure, Victor Moses, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Soufiane Feghouli, Ogenyi Onazi, Madjid Bougherra, Joel Matip, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Jonathan Pitroipa.