EURO CHAMPIONS FROM AFRICA
Posted: May 26, 2012
BRUCE GROBBELAAR (ZIMBABAWE) - LIVERPOOL - 1984
Zimbabwean goalkeeper, Bruce Grobbellar set the record as the first African player to win the prestigeous UEFA Champions League trophy. (Coluna, Eusébio, Santana, Costa Pereira and Águas were all born in Africa but Mozambique and Angola were under Portuguese rule at that point in time and so they played for the Portuguese national team).
The controversial goaltender achieved the feat with English top side, Liverpool, in 1984. The final between Liverpool and A.S. Roma finished 1–1 after extra time, and went to a penalty shootout. As Roma's Bruno Conti prepared to take his kick, Grobbelaar walked towards the goal smiling confidently at the cameras lined-up behind, then proceeded to bite the back of the net, in imitation of eating spaghetti. Conti sent his spot kick over the bar. Grobbelaar then produced a similar performance before Francesco Graziani took his kick, famously wobbling his legs in mock terror. Graziani duly missed and Liverpool went on to win the shootout 4–2.
RABAR MADJER (ALGERIA) - PORTO - 1987
Regarded as one of Africa’s most technically gifted striker during his playing days, Rabar Madjer won the coveted Champions League trophy after inspiring Portuguese side, FC Porto to triumph over German side, Bayern Munich in 1987.
Madjer reached stardom as an FC Porto player during the 1980s, and is widely regarded as one of the best Algerian football players of all time. He is widely remembered for scoring on 77 minutes, an audacious back-heeled equaliser in FC Porto's first European Cup final, against Bayern Munich in Vienna. He went on to create the late winner, four minutes after his equaliser, setting up substitute Filho Juary. The scoreline ended 2-1 in FC Porto's favour, winning their very first European Cup.
He played in two World Cups for Algeria, helping the Carthage Eagles to its first ever participation in 1982 and won the African Cup of Nations in 1990. After that stellar 1987, Madjer won the Ballon d'or Africain, but was not allowed to compete for the European Golden Ball as he was not born in the region. Madjer was voted as the African Footballer of the Year in 1987 beating Youssouf Fofana (CIV) and Francois Oman Biyik (Cameroun) to the second and third place respectively.
ABEDI PELE (GHANA) - OLYMPIQUE MARSEILLE - 1993
Abedi Pele arguably needs no introduction as one of the pioneers of African football who made huge impact in European club football. The skillful Ghanaian attacking midfielder was African version of Brazilian legend Pele and he was a key figure in Olympique de Marseille's dominance of the French league in the early 90s, resulting in 4 league championships. Abedi was famous for his sublime dribbling skills as well as a talent for scoring spectacular and often very important goals.
At Marseille, he was instrumental to the side’s historic Champions League triumph against Italian giants, AC Milan in 1993. The final at the Olympiastadion in Munich, Germany, which followed the first-ever UEFA Champions League group stage, saw Ivorian-born Marseille defender, Basile Boli score the only goal of the game in the 43rd minute to give Marseille their first European Cup title. It was the first time that a French team had won the European Cup, and no French side has won the trophy since.
He won the African Footballer of the Year awards back-to-back in 1991, 1992 and 1993, though Abedi never got to play at the FIFA World Cup, yet he was often included in FIFA "All-star" selections and captained the African all-stars in their victory over their European counterparts in the Meridian Cup of 1997. Abedi holds the record for most appearances at the Nations Cup Finals, beating even the legendary Roger Milla of Cameroun to the record. He made his first appearance at the 13th Nations Cup Finals in Libya in 1982 and for the next 16 years - ending at the 21st Finals in Burkina Faso - continued to grace the most prestigious football tournament on the continent until the 1996 edition.
GEORGE FINIDI AND NWANKWO KANU (NIGERIA) - AJAX - 1995
Former Super Eagles winger, Finidi George alongside compatriot, Nwankwo Kanu entered the records book as the first Nigerian players to lift the UEFA Champions League trophy.
Both starred for Dutch top side, Ajax Amsterdam and were instrumental to the team’s triumph over Italian giant, AC Milan, in the 40th edition of the competition that took place in Vienna. It was Milan's third European Cup final in three years and they were aiming to tie Real Madrid's record of having won the European Cup six times. After 85 minutes, the deadlock was broken when Frank Rijkaard, a former Milan player found Patrick Kluivert with just enough space in the penalty area to lose his two markers and slot the ball past Milan keeper, Sebastiano Rossi.
Finidi and Kanu teamed up with Ajax in 1993 albeit with different credentials. While the older Finidi arrived the Dutch club as an established and experienced Nigerian international, Kanu on his part joined the Amsterdam-based side as Nigeria’s most talented future prospect. Both players lived up to their respective expectations. Enroute Ajax victory, Finidi enjoyed the lions share of playing time, featuring in all the games and providing quality assists for Ajax forwardline led by Patrick Kluivert and Jari Litmanen while the younger Kanu, though mostly used as a substitute scored valuable goals enroute Ajax’s eventual triumph in 1995.
Finidi went on to peak for Nigeria, winning the African Cup of Nations in 1994. He also featured prominently in the 1994 FIFA World Cup where he set up Nigeria’s first ever World Cup goal for the Late Rashidi Yekini to score against Bulgaria. Finidi himself scored a goal as the Eagles beat Greece to progress to the second round of the FIFA Mundial and his ‘doggy’ celebration would ever be remembered. He then left Ajax in 1996 and went on to feature prominently for Spanish side, Real Betis for four seasons. Finidi had stints in England with Ipswich Town but eventually ended his career with Real Mallorca in Spain.
On the other hand, Kanu grew and blosomed to become Nigeria’s most decorated footballer, twice winning the African Footballer of the Year awards in 1996 and 1999. He featured in two World Cup finals in 1998 and 2002 and several African Cup of Nations. Kanu’s most historic moment for Nigeria was captaining Nigeria’s U-23 team to win the football gold medal at the Atlanta ‘96 Olympic Games. After surviving a life-threatening heart ailment, Kanu went on to feature for Inter Milan before switching to Arsenal where he won several laurels with the English top club. He also featured for West Bromwich Albion between 2004 and 2006 and is presently in the twilight of his career with Portsmouth.
Finidi and Kanu’s attempt to win the Champions League for the second time with Ajax in 1996, was thwarted by another Italian side, Juventus which beat them via penalty shoot-out in the final.
SAMUEL KUFFOUR (GHANA) - BAYERN MUNICH - 2001
Former Ghanaian international, Samuel Kuffour was well known as a defender who played for club and country with great passion and commitment. After arriving in Europe in 1991 aged 15, Kuffour went on to make his breakthrough with German side, Bayern Munich rising through the youth team to become an established player in the Bundesliga team. He spent eleven seasons with Bayern and was an integral part of the squad that lost to Manchester United in the finals of the 1999 UEFA Champions League. On that occasion where Bayern conceeded two goals in the dying minutes having led by a lone goal for the major part of the game, Kuffour cried like a baby and his commitment endeared him to the supporters of the club.
Two years after the nightmarish loss at the Nou Camp in Barcelona, Kuffour was finally rewarded when Bayern at the San Siro defeated Spanish side, Valencia 5-4 on penalties in the 2001 final to win the trophy. He was the youngest defender of all-time to score in the Champions League, at the age of 18 years, 61 days during the match against FC Spartak Moscow on 2 November 1994, which ended in a 2–2 draw. Kuffour made over 60 UEFA Champions League appearances, the most by any African player ever.
A Ghana international for 13 years, Kuffour won his first cap as a 17-year old, when Ghana played Sierra Leone on 28 November 1993. He had previously been part of every Ghanaian national team: junior, youth and Olympic level, and became the full squad's captain at the age of 23. Kuffour twice finished second in the African Footballer of the Year votings in 1999 and 2001. He featured in the FIFA 2006 World Cup and had playing stints with Roma and Ajax before quitting active football in 2009.
GEREMI NJITAP (CAMEROUN) - REAL MADRID - 2000, 2002
Camerounian international midfielder, Geremi Njitap is the second African player to have won the UEFA Champions League trophy on more than one occasion coming behind compatriot, Samuel Eto’O who has won it three times. He spent two seasons in Turkey with Gençlerbirligi before moving to Spanish side, Real Madrid. In his three years at the Bernabeu, Geremi won two Champions League winners medals with the Spanish giants in the year 2000 and 2002.
In 2000, Real Madrid defeated Valencia 3-0 in the final decided at the Stade de France while on the second occasion, the German side, Bayern Munich succumbed to the superior firepower of the Spanish side 1-2 in the final played at the Hampden Park, Glasgow. It must be noted however, that Geremi did not actually play in the two finals but featured for the star-studded Madrid side in some matches enroute to both victories.
Geremi, seeking more regular football, moved to England where he teamed up with Middlesbrough (on loan) and after a successful season with the club, Chelsea paid Real Madrid £6.9m for him in July 2003 following his impressive display at the FIFA Confederations Cup with Cameroun. His attempt to win his third Champions League with Chelsea in 2007 however ended ingloriously. In a semi-final second leg game against Liverpool which went to penalties, Geremi came on as an extra time substitute and went on to have his penalty saved by Pepe Reina, and Chelsea ultimately lost.
For Cameroun, Geremi won the Olympics soccer gold (2000) and two African Cup of Nations medals in 2000 and 2002. He also featured for the Indomitable Lions at the FIFA World Cup.
BENNI McCARTHY (SOUTH AFRICA) - PORTO - 2004
Benni McCarthy arrived FC Porto on loan from Celta Vigo in 2001/2002 season and he played under then newly-appointed coach, Jose Mourinho for an underperforming team that had never been quite good enough to challenge for the top honours in Europe. However, things soon changed and after representing Bafana Bafana in the 2002 African Nations Cup where they were knocked out in the quarter-finals, McCarthy returned to Porto where he became the main force behind the team's recovery. He helped them to third place in the league and automatic qualification for the UEFA Cup by scoring an impressive 12 goals in only 11 matches, but Porto's finances did not allow them to keep the player, despite the desire of both sides to continue.
In 2002–03 Mccarthy returned to Celta Vigo where he spent a lot of time on the bench as squad player while Porto captured the League Cup in Portugal and the UEFA Cup. When former teammate Hélder Postiga was sold to English side, Tottenham Hotspur in the 2003–04 season, Porto finally acquired McCarthy for a sum of €7.856 million.
On his return, McCarthy not only found club morale was at its highest for years, but that Porto now had a highly organized team with some of the best Portuguese players. He grabbed the Golden Boot award (with 20 goals in 23 games) on the final day with a terrific hat-trick, and was instrumental in Porto's superb run in the 2004 UEFA Champions League in which they defeated French side, Monaco 3-0 in the final at the Arena AufSchalke in Germany. Notably, McCarthy was responsible for scoring two goals against Manchester United to defeat them in the second round.
Currently in the twilight of his soccer career with Orlando Pirates in South Africa, McCarthy is arguably the most successful footballer to come from the former Apartheid enclave.
DJIMI TRAORE (MALI) - LIVERPOOL - 2005
Malian international, Djimi Traoré took the baton from McCarthy to clinch the 2005 edition of the UEFA Champions League trophy with English side, Liverpool. He teamed up with the Reds in 1999 with Gerard Houllier paying £500,000 to secure his services from home club, Laval. He played for most of the 2002–03 season, deputising for the injured Stéphane Henchoz, having been on loan with French club, Lens the previous season. He then spent the 2003–04 season, Houllier's last at the club, in the reserve team, of which he was captain, and almost left Liverpool for their Merseyside neighbours, Everton, on the 2004 transfer deadline day but remained at Liverpool.
Traoré's career was however, revitalised under coach Rafael Benítez. While the defender had appeared poor positionally, and seemed reluctant to attack, particularly during the 2004–05 season, he showed more willingness to support the left winger, as well as improving his positional play. He became a regular and eventually made the starting line-up as Liverpool qualified for the Champions League final that season, against AC Milan. He conceded the free kick that led to Paolo Maldini's goal in the opening minute. In the second half his play improved, and "a goalline clearance to deny Shevchenko a likely winner" contributed to his becoming the first Malian to win a Champions League winners medal as Liverpool fought back from 3–0 down to draw 3–3 and beat Milan on penalties at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul.
He is currently with French Ligue 1 side, Olympique Marseille.
SAMUEL ETO’O FILS (CAMEROUN) - BARCELONA 2006 & 2009; INTER MILAN 2010
Without doubt, the most decorated African footballer till date, Samuel Eto’O is unarguably the best player ever to come from the continent - a honour the Camerounian star has modestly declined even though statistics point to the fact. Crowned a record four-time African Footballer of the Year, Eto’O is also the only African player to have won the UEFA Champions League on three occasions.
Spotted by German coach Jupp Heynckes, he was signed by Real Madrid in 1997, but after their B-side were relegated to a league that didn't allow non-European players, he was loaned to Leganes, where his promising performances got him a call-up for the Indomitable Lions at just sixteen, then moving on to Mallorca, where he would play for five years and become a fan favourite. That's when, at twenty-three-years-old, he was signed to Barcelona. In his five years at the Nou Camp, Eto'o went from being a very talented and promising youngster to the superstar we know today, winning the Champions League twice with Barcelona and then with Inter Milan.
Eto’O scored Barcelona’s equaliser enroute a 2-1 triumph over Arsenal in the final of the 2006 edition at the Stade de France, picking up the man-of-the-match award in the process. And in 2009 final, he again scored Barca’s first goal before Argentine star, Lionel Messi doubled the lead in a 2-0 win over Manchester United at the Stadio Olympico in Rome. Eto’O won his UEFA Champions League trophy ‘hat-trick’ with Inter Milan in 2010 as the Italian side defeated Bayern Munich 2-0 in the final decided at the Santiago Bernabeu in Spain.
Eto'o happens to be one of the purest strikers in activity. His technical skills are proven as he is very often forced into becoming a playmaker with the Indomitable Lions. He is also a very quick player with a very high football IQ that has made a winner of every team he's ever been on. His tirelessness and his ability to sacrifice everything for his team have rendered him invaluable throughout his ongoing career. He is currently amongst the world’s highest paid footballers with Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia.
SULLEY MUNTARI (GHANA) - INTER MILAN - 2010
Ghanaian international, Sulley Muntari began his European football career with Udinese where he spent five seasons before switching to England where he teamed up with Portsmouth. And after just a season with Pompey, he returned to the Serie A to team up with Inter Milan in 2008. Muntari has a good eye for goals even as a midfielder and packs good shots in his left leg. And playing under the reknown coach Jose Mourinho, Muntari went on to win the UEFA Champions League trophy as Inter Milan defeated Bayern Munich 2-0 in the 2010 finals. He came on as a 79th minute substitute for Goran Pandev in the game and became the third Ghanaian to win the European club trophy.
Muntari handed in a transfer request and was loaned to Sunderland in 2011 but left after a season on another loan move to current club, AC Milan. A skillful but controversial player, Muntari won his first international cap with the Black Stars in 2002 and has since gone to become a regular fixture in the team. He has featured in two FIFA World Cups in 2006 and 2010. Muntari has also featured for Ghana in several African Cup of Nations and was voted as an All-Star Player during the 2008 edition hosted by Ghana.
YAYA TOURE - IVORY COAST - BARCELONA - 2009
Gangling Ivorien midfielder, Yaya Toure began his playing career at Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas, where he made his debut aged 18. His performances attracted attention from Europe, playing for clubs in minor European leagues. Touré played for SK Beveren in Belgium, Metalurh Donetsk in Ukraine, Olympiacos in Greece, and AS Monaco in France. In 2007, Touré moved to Barcelona, playing over 100 matches for the club and was part of the historic 2010 Barcelona team which won six trophies in one season.
Toure is well known for his excuisite skills in the round leather game which has seen him feature for top football clubs in Europe. The younger of the Toure brothers, Yaya combines speed, passing ability and physical power with great technique and his versatility has seen him play also as a centre back. He frequently plays as a box-to-box midfielder for club and country and often switches from defensive and offensive positions throughout matches.
He won the UEFA Champions League trophy in 2009 as one of the three African players (alongside Samuel Eto’O and Seydou Keita) in the all-conquering Barcelona team that defeated English side, Manchester United 2-0 in the final. In the match played at the Stadio Olympico in Rome, Yaya played as a centre back alongside Spanish star, Gerard Pique in the heart of Barca defence. The partnership was good enough to put United’s attack led by Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and later, Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov at bay for the whole duration of the game.
Currently with English side, Manchester City, Yaya has brought his wealth of experience to bear in City winning their first Premier League title in 44 years, that was aside the FA Cup trophy he helped win for Citizens last season (2011). He was voted as the African Footballer of the Year in 2011 and has featured for the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire at two FIFA World Cups in 2006 and 2010.
SEYDOU KEITA - MALI - BARCELONA - 2009
Mali international, Seydou Keita groomed his football skills in France with Olympique Marseille, joining the club at the age of 17. He played mainly for the reserve squad during his three-year spell but later made his Ligue 1 debut for Marseille on 19 September 1999 in a 1–0 home win against Troyes AC. Keita later moved to Lorient and then Lens both in the French topflight, establishing himself as a versatile midfielder who can operate both as a central or defensive midfielder especially at Lens where he spent 5 seasons.
Spanish side, Sevilla snapped him up in 2007 and after just a season, his qualities were noticed by La Liga giants, Barcelona which signed him on a four-year contract in 2008, in that process becoming the first Malian to star for the Catalan club. Keita made his official debut for Barcelona in a Champions League qualifier against Poland's Wisla Kraków that season in a 4–0 home win. He later made his league debut against CD Numancia replacing Andrés Iniesta midway through the second half of a 0–1 away loss.
After scoring his debut goal for Barcelona in November that year, Keita went on to finish his first season at Camp Nou with 46 official games as Barca won the treble. Keita featured in the 2009 Champions League final against Manchester United, coming on as substitute for Thierry Henry in the remaining 20 minutes as Barca coasted to a 2-0 win to lift the trophy.
A non-flamboyant but effective player, Keita was voted the second best African player for 2011 behind winner, Yaya Toure. He led Mali to a shock third place finish against Ghana at the 2012 African Cup of Nations in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea and is still on contract with Barcelona until 2014.
DIDIER DROGBA - IVORY COAST - CHELSEA - 2012
The Ivorien international played a key role in Chelsea’s historic UEFA Champions League triumph. In the 2012 final decided at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Didier Drogba scored Chelsea’s late equaliser against Bayern Munich to take the game into extra time. And in the resultant penalty shoot-out after scores remained at 1-1, Drogba was well composed to send Bayern’s keeper the wrong way with his kick to ensure Chelsea victory.
And for a player who had been with the English Premier League side for eight years, Drogba has indeed carved his name in gold and will go down in Chelsea history as a legend who helped the club break their Champions League drought. With the feat, Drogba who was crowned as the 2009 African Footballer of the Year became the second Ivorien player to win the CL. A veteran of two FIFA World Cups who also featured in several editions of the African Cup of Nations, Drogba is currently regarded as the Ivorien All Time Best Player and has scored the highest number of goals for both club and country.
SALOMON KALOU - IVORY COAST - CHELSEA 2012
Salomon Kalou played alongside compatriot and national team skipper, Didier Drogba enroute to winning the Champions League with Chelsea. The younger Ivorien international would indeed be greatful for being at the Stamford Bridge at the right time with Drogba in what will go down as an historic season. Though Drogba’s contribution looms large, Kalou’s contribution to Chelsea’s historic feat will not go unrecognised as the attacking midfielder’s untiring work did much to help the team’s cause.
As a versatile and utility player, Kalou played in several roles for Chelsea enroute the final triumph over Bayern Munich to become the third Ivorien player to win Europe’s most prestigeous club trophy.
MICHAEL ESSIEN - GHANA - CHELSEA - 2012
Michael Essien became the fourth Ghanaian player to win the UEFA Champions League trophy as Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich 5-4 on penalties in the just concluded 2012 final. Although he didn’t get to play in the final proper at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Essien contributed his quota in Chelsea’s campaign enroute the final. In a way, the victory over Bayern Munich could also be seen as a sort of compensation for the Ghanaian veteran who featured regularly and prominently in the heart of the Blues midfield during the 2008 campaign where Chelsea eventually lost in the final to rivals Manchester United in a penalty shootout.
While the quality of the versatile Ghanaian is never in doubt, injuries have conspired to force him out of regular actions for both club and country of recent. He missed the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa as a result of the injury he copped during that year’s African Cup of Nations finals in Angola. His battle to reclaim his starting shirt in the Chelsea squad suffered several setbacks due to the reccuring of the injury, as he was limited to playing more of a substitute role for the better part of the just concluded season.
JOHN MIKEL OBI - NIGERIA - CHELSEA - 2012
Super Eagles star, Mikel Obi can begin to lay claim to being one of Nigeria’s most accomplished players in European football currently. The Chelsea FC midfielder shone like a million stars as the English side beat Bayern Munich to lift their UEFA Champions League trophy. By that feat, Mikel goes down in history as the third Nigerian player to win the prestigeous trophy after the feats of Finidi and Kanu in 1995.
The former youth prodigy was a delight to watch in the heart of the Chelsea midfield, raising the hopes that the player is finally on his way to fulfilling his huge potentials. Mikel who was adjudged as the second Most Valuable Player behind Argentine star, Lionel Messi, at the 2005 World Youth Championship in Holland, would however be expected to bring his club form to bear on the national team.
Mikel has come under criticism for his alleged poor attitude to national team assignment. He was once the darling of Nigerian fans when he featured at the U-17 and U-20 level after which he got double promotion to the Super Eagles. He raised expectations of great things to come putting up great display at his first African Cup of Nations in Tunisia in 2006 but since then, his commitment has been questionable as seen at subsequent editions in Ghana 2008 and Angola 2010.
He missed a golden opportunity to play at the 2008 Beijing Olympics following a disagreement between him and coach Samson Siasia. And if he had been looking forward to rectify that by featuring as an overage player in the forthcoming London 2012 Olympics, that chance has also gone up in smoke following the inability of the Dream Team IV to qualify for the summer Games. And in what would have been his first senior World Cup experience, injury played a fast one on the talented midfielder as he missed the party to South Africa 2010.
It is however, hoped that with his recent success in the CL coupled with the goodwill he recieved by millions of Nigeria fans, Mikel would be ready to turn a new leaf and be determined to make his mark in the Eagles. And there can be no greater chance of doing that than under coach Stephen Keshi who is looking to rebuild a new team for the Nations and World Cup in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
And at 25, Mikel still stand a good chance of going down the annals of history and be ranked amongst the world’s best. But the choice is his.
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