Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Africans in the UEFA Champions League


Today is Matchday One of the world's biggest club football tournament, the UEFA Champions League.

Super clubs like England's Manchester United and holder FC Barcelona of Spain will battle it out with Europe's elite clubs for the right to call themselves the continent's best team.

Who will win the title? I haven't the faintest clue. It's a wide open field. Could be one of the two aforementioned or it could be Arsenal, Inter Milan, Real Madrid or Chelsea, who all will be fielding mega-squads for this year's competition.

One thing that is certain is the glut of African talent on display at this year's tournament, beginning with the juiciest tie of the first matchday: Inter Milan against holders Barcelona.

Never mind the fact that Inter coach Jose Mourinho once worked for Barca or that Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic just made the move from Internazionale to Barcelona, swapping places with mercurial Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o.

These are two giants of European football and favorites to take the big prize.

Barca are likely to play their African midfielders, Ivory Coast's Yaya Touré and Mali star Seydou Keita, while Inter counters with former Barca star Eto’o, who will be desperate to prove the Spanish club wrong when they said he was passed his best.

Ghanaian international midfielder Sulley Muntari will also be a key figure for Mourinho’s side, who despite their dominance of Italian football the past few seasons have yet to make an impact in the Champions League.

Another Mali midfielder, Momo Sissoko, has not recovered from injury in time to feature for Juventus against Bordeaux, who have a Malian of their own in midfielder Abdou Traoré.

South African left-back Tsepo Masilela will make his group stage debut with Israeli club Maccabi Haifa when they host German giants Bayern Munich.

Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins (above) has made a good start to his career with Bundesliga side Wolfsburg and he will be looking to continue that as they host Russian club CSKA Moscow. Also in the Wolfsburg side is Algerian Karim Ziani. CSKA will feature Niger striker Ouwo Moussa Maazou, as well as Nigerian defender Chidi Odiah.

Swiss side FC Zurich have the unlucky fate of facing Spanish giants Real Madrid, who have started the season in red-hot form. Zurich have Nigerian forward Tico in their ranks, while Real will feature Mali midfielder Mahamadou Diarra.

Marseille, who host struggling AC Milan, have a plethora of African talent from which to chose from, including Nigerian left-back Taye Taiwo, the Senegalese trio of defenders Souleymane Diawara and Pape M'Bow, as well as striker Mamadou Niang (Marseille's captain).

But that's not all. Marseille also have Burkina Faso's Charles Kaboré, Ivory Coast striker Bakari Koné, Cameroon midfielder Stéphane M'Bia, as well as his countryman, defender Charley Fomen. Lots of African talent at Marseille's disposal, eh?

Chelsea host FC Porto in a battle between two teams who have been managed by Mourinho, with the English Premiership club relying heavily on their African talent, namely Michael Essien (Ghana), John Obi Mikel (Nigeria), Didier Drogba (above) and Salomon Kalou (both Ivory Coast). Thanks to Mourinho's keen eye for African talent, Chelsea have been one of Europe's most progressive clubs in scouting Africa. They'll need their African contingent to come up big in order to progress.

Liverpool may give a run to Moroccan youngster Nabil El Zhar as they host Hungarian side Debrecen, while Cameroon star Jean Makoun will be a key man for Olympique Lyon when they entertain Italian side Fiorentina.

South African midfielder Macbeth Sibaya will be suspended when his Russian side Rubin Kazan travel to Dynamo Kiev in the Ukraine, who have Pape Diakhate (Senegal), Ayila Yussuf (Nigeria) and Badr El Kaddouri (Morocco) on their books.

Sevilla and their African contingent containing the Ivory Coast trio of Dider Zokora, Arouna Kone and Koffi Ndri Romaric, as well as leading striker Frederic Kanoute (above) from Mali, will host Romanian side Unirea Urziceni, who have Guinea-Bissau international Bruno Fernandes on their books.

Ivory Coast international Arthur Boka should feature for his German side Stuttgart when they host Scottish champions Glascow Rangers, for whom Algerian midfielder Madjid Bougherra plays.

Moroccan international Jaouad Zairi should play for Greek side Olympiakos as they entertain Dutch side AZ Alkmaar, who have Zairi’s compatriot Mounir El Hamdaoui in their ranks.

Finally, Belgian side Standard Liege have Dieudonne Mbokani (DR Congo), Mohamed Sarr (Senegal) and the Ivory Coast duo of Moussa Traore and Gohi Bi Cyriac. They are at home to Arsenal, who will feature another Ivorian in Emmanuel Eboue and Alexandre Song of Cameroon.

As you can see, there is a plethora of African talent on display in Europe's Champions League. One could almost say the Cup passes through Africa on it's way to the holder! Should be an exciting, interesting competition. May the best team (Barcelona) win ...

(Many thanks to MTN African Football News for their help in this article.)

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