Goal.com profiles 11 players of African heritage that will take part in the tournament in Poland and UkraineANALYSIS
By Ed Dove
At first glance, the summer of a European Championship may be considered an off-peak period for analysts and enthusiasts of the African game. However, the nature of football, and of international demographics, means that a number of players competing for European nations this summer would also have been eligible to represent African national sides.
Goal.com runs the rule over an 'African Euro XI' – a team of players present at the championship in Poland and Ukraine who were born in Africa, or who are of African descent.
|GOALKEEPER: STEVE MANDANDA (FRANCE)
Congolese talent in Europe typically come to the fore by representing Belgium, where players such as Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany have heralded a new era of Belgian football in recent times. But France has also benefited from Congolese players; the former Zaire has played a crucial role in furnishing the French national team.
Midfielders Rio Mavuba, the son of a Zairian international, and Claude Makelele, born in Kinshasa, are both part of this tradition, having anchored the Les Bleus midfield to great acclaim. Recently, it has been Steve Mandanda, also born in the Congolese capital, who has excelled for Laurent Blanc's side.
Were misfortune to befall Hugo Lloris this summer, French fans should be confident that their Congolese backup – nicknamed 'Frenchie' by his family – would provide a more than adequate replacement.
Did you know: Mandanda is one of four brothers, all of whom ply their trade as goalkeepers – Parfait, of Belgian club Sporting Charleroi, has represented DR Congo as a full international.
|RIGHT-BACK: THEODOR GEBRE SELASIE (CZECH REPUBLIC)
While France has a long and storied history of incorporating players from former colonies into its national side, many of the nations on show this summer do not. The Czech Republic, having no overseas territories, has no history of being represented by players of African descent. That will change this summer, as Theodor Gebre Selassie takes his place in the defence.
The son of an Ethiopian father, Gebre Selassie is a relatively new face to a transitional Czech side. Still playing in the domestic league for Slovan Liberec, he is an unknown quantity to the wider European public.
Did you know: Gebre Selassie's sister Anna is also a Czech international, representing the nation at handball.
|CENTRE BACK: ANGELO OGBONNA (ITALY)
Versatile defender Ogbonna is another newcomer to the international stage. Like Gebre Selassie, however, he appears to have taken to it with ease, and will be relishing the prospect of international competition with Italy. Born in Cassino, to Nigerian parents, the imposing centre back has come through the ranks with Torino, contributing to the side's promotion from Serie B this past season.
Ogbonna is an international novice having been capped only a handful of times, and would probably just have been happy to have made the squad a week or two ago. However, with regular left-back Domenico Criscito being forced to withdraw while under investigation for match-fixing, the Torino man may well find himself thrust into the starting line-up sooner than expected.
Did you know: Ogbonna had a brush with death in December 2008 after losing control of his car and driving off a bridge into the Sangone River.
|CENTRE-BACK: JEROME BOATENG (GERMANY)
While it is Kevin-Prince Boateng who is more familiar to African audiences, it is the younger Boateng, Jerome, who will be flying the family flag in Poland and Ukraine this summer. Born in Berlin, to a Ghanaian father, the two brothers had conflicting international loyalties; Kevin-Prince preferring to represent Ghana – the country for whom his uncle Robert had also played, with Jerome opting for Germany – for whom the two had excelled at youth level.
The pair famously fell out in 2010, after Kevin-Prince’s tackle in the FA Cup final ruled then Germany captain Michael Ballack out of the World Cup in South Africa. Kevin-Prince caught the eye in that tournament, helping to guide Ghana to the quarter-finals, but has since retired from the Black Stars set-up, leaving Jerome as the only brother standing on the international stage.
Did you know: Despite immersing himself in the Bavarian lifestyle at Bayern, even going as far as learning the regional dialect, Jerome is strictly teetotal, meaning he has been unable to sample any of Munich’s famed local beers.
|LEFT-BACK: PATRICE EVRA (FRANCE)
Unlike some of the other names in this list, Patrice Evra is by no means a newcomer to international football, and is a name recognised worldwide as a top-class competitor. A Champions League and Premier League winner with Manchester United, as well as an established international with Les Bleus, having made his debut in August 2004, Evra is often cited as the classic example of a modern full-back.
Evra was born in Dakar to a Senegalese diplomat of Guinean descent and a Cape Verdean mother. This summer is potentially Evra's swansong at international level, and the player will be keen to excel in the blue shirt and erase memories of South Africa two years ago.
Did you know: He has been heavily criticised within Senegal for choosing to play for France over the nation of his birth.
|RIGHT MIDFIELD: NANI (PORTUGAL)
Portugal are many people's dark horses for the tournament; despite a tough first-round draw the Portuguese boast an exciting roster of players and a first eleven filled with menace. As is often the way for the national side, it is in the wide areas that the stardust can be found: continuing the tradition of Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, now it is Nani's time to cement his place among Portugal's revered wide men.
Born in Praia, Cape Verde, Nani moved to Lisbon at an early age. His ability to strike with both feet and to produce the unexpected will comfort Portuguese boss Paulo Bento.
Did you know: He honed his craft playing in the streets with old friend and Portuguese colleague, Manuel Fernandes.
|CENTRE MIDFIELD: BLAISE MATUIDI (FRANCE)
Born in Toulouse to an Angolan father and a French mother, Blaise Matuidi grew up idolising former Super Eagles midfielder Jay-Jay Okocha. Enchanted by his shimmies and his shakes, Matuidi dreamed of one day replicating the mesmerising ballet of his hero in the elegant blue of Paris Saint-Germain.
If you arrive in Paris looking for the new Okocha though, you may be disappointed. Instead, Matuidi predominantly supports the side's more flamboyant players from the base of the midfield, energetically breaking up the play with his boundless stamina and fierce tackling. His performances recall those of his predecessor in Paris, another son of Africa, the great Claude Makelele.
Did you know: While Matuidi has made the squad for Euro 2012, his club captain, the French-Senegalese defender Mamadou Sakho, failed to make the cut.
|CENTRE MIDFIELD: SAMI KHEDIRA (GERMANY)
Mesut Ozil, the star of the team, is of Turkish descent, while Sami Khedira, his midfield partner for both country and at Real Madrid, is of African heritage. Born in Stuttgart to a German mother and a Tunisian father, Khedira has become the heartbeat of die Mannschaft. So impressive in the 2010 World Cup, where he bagged the winning goal against Uruguay in the third-place play-off, Khedira has already chalked up half a century of appearances in Madrid under Jose Mourinho.
Did you know: German/Nigerian full-back Dennis Aogo has had a promising start to his Germany career, but unfortunately failed to make the cut for the Euro squad.
|LEFT MIDFIELD: HATEM BEN ARFA (FRANCE)
Hatem Ben Arfa's ascent from France's breeding ground at Clairefontaine has been a laborious road. Once touted as the jewel of the French football system, Ben Arfa's progress has been stymied by ill-disciple and injury. Incidents at Clairefontaine, and later in Marseille, cemented his reputation as l'enfant terribleof French football. A fresh start in England, with Newcastle, was devastated by a double leg break in early October 2010, and it seemed then that Ben Arfa was destined never to realise his potential for Les Bleus.
This season, however, things have taken a brighter turn for the precocious talent from Clamart. Ben Arfa’s rehabilitation was a long and arduous process, but the time and effort taken have reaped great rewards – with Alan Pardew's Magpies flying high, Ben Arfa has produced performances worthy of his billing, the sparkling genius in a Newcastle attacking line awash with Francophone talent.
Performances this season, particularly those against Blackburn and Bolton, both accompanied by incredible goals, have cemented Ben Arfa’s place within the France squad.
Did you know: Ben Arfa could have chosen to represent Tunisia at international level.
|STRIKER: DANNY WELBECK (ENGLAND)
In March 2011 Danny Welbeck made his debut for England at Wembley, against Ghana. Unusually for an international contest, Welbeck was booed by the away fans as he made his entrance on 81 minutes. This expression of Ghanaian discontent is understood in the context of Welbeck's upbringing – the Manchester United forward is the son of Ghanaian parents.
Many Ghanaians were disappointed at his choice to play for the Three Lions after Black Stars officials had scouted him since 2008, and others scoffed at his decision: "Why play a bit part role for England, when he could have been a star in Ghana?"
Did you know: Welbeck’s full name is Daniel Nii Tackie Mensah Welbeck.
|STRIKER: MARIO BALOTELLI (ITALY)
To close, one needs to consider Mario Balotelli – the high profile striker who is likely to lead the line for Italy this summer. Balotelli is acutely aware of the tremors and tumult that accompanies integration into European communities for African immigrant families. In that sense, he is in many ways the perfect person to close this list – drawing together his heritage, as well as his current place as the figurehead for one of Europe's leading international sides.
While Italian fans are hoping that the only headlines Balotelli writes concern on-field successes, observers should expect a vocal and often strident spokesman. The players on this list will certainly be conscious of Balotelli's negative premonitions concerning racism in Ukraine ahead of the tournament, having threatened to walk off, or worse, if he encounters abuse. Super Mario has the potential to emerge as the star of the competition, and the brightest African involved.
Did you know: In 2007 Balotelli was called up for Ghana by then coach Claude Le Roy, but he refused, insisting that he was holding out for the invitation from Italy.
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