Al-Ahram Weekly Online
24 - 30 January 2002
Issue No.570
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Out of Africa

Not all players at the ANC championship make their living on the continent

Cameroon's Mboma Dem Patrick (L) is congratulated by teammates after scoring against DR Congo

photo: AFP

African footballers have converged from around the world for the African Nations Cup (ANC) finals that kicked off in Mali on Saturday. Many of the 352 players representing the 16 finalists ply their professional trade across four continents and in some of the more obscure footballing corners of the world. Players from clubs in 42 countries have been chosen for the tournament, coming from all the major footballing countries, and also from soccer minnows Albania, India, and Malta and even one from non-league football in England. The vast majority of competitors are based outside Africa, with Cameroon and Senegal, both World Cup finalists, bringing teams exclusively made up of players from outside their country's borders.

A total of 75 footballers at the Nations Cup are based in France, the country that by far provides the most players for the African championship. Every country, save for Egypt, South Africa and Zambia, has at least one French-based player in their squad, ranging from top teams like Lille, Monaco and Paris St Germain to amateur clubs in the regional leagues. Senegal has called up 19 of its 22 squad members from France, almost all of them first division players. Germany, Belgium and Italy also provide large contingents. There is a record 15 English-based players at the Nations Cup, including Mali's reserve goalkeeper Karamoko Keita who plays for Harrow Borough in the Isthmian League -- effectively the regional sixth division in England -- where Harrow's home crowds hover around 250 for league games at best. Keita could find himself playing against players from some of the world's biggest clubs as players from the likes of Ajax Amsterdam, Manchester United, Real Madrid and European champion Bayern Munich will all be taking part.

There are also players from SK Tirana in Albania, Sliema Wanderers of Malta and Slovan Liberec in the Czech Republic -- unusual destinations for African footballers. More exotic are the clubs outside Europe -- teams from India, Mexico, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the US are all represented in Mali. Peru might even have been added to the list had Ghana's Prince Amoako not recently moved from Sporting Cristal to Saturn in Russia.

Zambia has the biggest contingent of locally-based players on its squad with all but six of the 22 playing in league football. Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia can also boast the majority of their squad members playing with clubs in their domestic league.

ASEC Abidjan from the Ivory Coast has more players than any other club at the Nations Cup finals -- six on the Ivorian team plus Togo striker Kossi Noutsoudje. Not far off that mark is Italy's Serie B outfit Genoa with four Tunisians and Ghana's John Mensah.

Tunisia's 35-year-old goalkeeper Chokri Al-Ouaer is the tournament's oldest player. The youngest is Togo defender Maman Gafarou from Gomido Kpalime, who turned 16 last August. Gafarou is too old, however, to break the record set two years ago by Chiva Nzigou of Gabon who was 16 years, three months when he played for his country against South Africa in Kumasi in the first round of the 2000 edition.

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