Legend El-Hadary, surprise Nakoulma in Afcon select XI
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JOHANNESBURG - The three-week long party that is the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) comes to an end on Sunday night after the final between Egypt and Cameroon in Libreville. Njabulo Ngidi picks his best XI from the tournament.
Essam El-Hadary (goalkeeper)
The choice between El-Hadary and Fabrice Ondoa was a hard one. The young Cameroonian goalkeeper stepped out of his shell and shone in this tournament, making crucial saves. But the legendary El-Hadary took it to another level as he became the oldest player to feature in the Afcon. The 44-year-old went over five hours unbeaten in Gabon. Aristide Bance is the only man to score against him in Egypt’s road to the final.
Ahmed Fathi (leftback)
The Egyptian showed his versatility as he was shifted from leftback to central midfield while he has been used mainly on the right flank in the past. He struggled a bit in central midfield but as a fullback he was superb. He stabilised the Pharaohs defence and started their attacks quickly after gaining possession. His experience, as one of four Egyptians who had played in the Afcon before, came in handy in the inexperienced side.
Ahmed Hegazy (centreback)
The towering centreback played a key role in Egypt only conceding one goal in five matches. He worked his socks off to protect Essam El-Hadary, putting his large body on the line. Hegazy doesn’t only rely on his size and aerial strength but he is also a good reader
of the game and has good timing.
Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui (centreback)
It’s not just his two goals - a powerful strike in the comeback against Guinea-Bissau and a poacher’s goal against Ghana - that make Ngadeu-Ngandjui a stand out figure for the Indomitable Lions. He was impressive in his defensive duties, producing a goal-line clearance that would have deflated Cameroon against a plucky Guinea-Bissau. He can play at the back and in midfield.
Harrison Afful (rightback)
The Ghanaian fullback has been one of the most consistent players in this tournament. He had to double his effort and even fill in for Baba Abdul-Rahman at leftback after the Schalke defender tore his ACL, ruling him out of the tournament. Afful is a no frills type of player who does the basics right.
Thomas Partey (central midfielder)
It’s easy to see why the 23-year-old has been compared to former Ivory Coast captain Yaya Toure. He is a powerful box-to-box midfielder who drives his team. He might not have led Ghana to Afcon success like Toure did in 2015 but he announced himself to the continent with his display at the heart of the Black Stars’ midfield. Age is on his side in his quest to be an African champion.
Charles Kabore (central midfielder)
The Burkinabe is a classy midfielder and an inspirational captain. He led the Stallions with aplomb with his high work rate and elegant passes. He helped Burkina Faso keep their shape as well as allow the attack-minded players to go forward with freedom knowing that Kabore was protecting them. He will be missed, having hung up his boots after last night’s third-place play-off.
Prejuce Nakoulma (winger)
The France-based midfielder started this tournament on the bench behind Jonathan Pitroipa. But an injury to the Stallions’ talisman, Pitroipa, paved the way for Nakoulma to show what he has. His teammates were rattled by Pitroipa’s injury, with the entire bench checking up on him when he was stretchered off against Gabon. But Nakoulma quickly washed away their tears, scoring against the Panthers and then against Tunisia to seal the Stallions’ passage to the last four.
Christian Atsu (winger)
Atsu continued where he left things off in the last Afcon. His performance in Equatorial Guinea saw him crowned as the tournament’s best player. In Gabon, he was the best player in the Black Stars’ colours. Defenders hardly rested with him around because of his pace and skills.
Mohamed Salah (striker)
It shows the quality of Salah that despite scoring two of Egypt’s four goals and creating Abdallah El-Said’s goal, many still feel the Roma striker has had a quiet tournament. That sentiment might be true, but Salah’s quiet has been loud enough to take the Pharaohs to the final of the Afcon after a seven-year absence.
Junior Kabananga (striker)
Kabananga powered the Democratic Republic of Congo to the last eight with his three goals in three matches. The Kazakhstan-based forward is a freak of nature, strong, fast and packs a powerful shot. His time in Gabon might have been short-lived but he showed his quality in the four matches he was involved in.