Throughout history, Africa has produced players who have created indelible moments that have lived long in the hearts and minds of fans all over the world.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane might be the current superstars heading to the knockout stages, but here’s the greatest XI of African players in the history of football.
After being described by Didier Drogba as his toughest ever opponent, El-Hadary played in his first-ever World Cup at the age of 45, becoming the tournament’s oldest ever player. In his long-lasting career, El-Hadary was a four-time AFCON winner with Egypt and kept three clean sheets in four of those finals and made a total of 159 appearances for Egypt.
Wael Gomaa (Egypt/Centre-Back)
Similar to El-Hadary, Gomaa was a huge part of Egypt’s AFCON triumphs in 2006, 2008 and 2010 and made 114 appearances for his nation. At Club level, Gomaa won the continent’s Champions League six-time with Al Ahly. Known for his passing and scoring ability from set-pieces, Gomaa is widely considered the greatest African centre-back in history.
Rigobert Song (Cameroon/Centre-Back)
An icon of Cameroon, Song aged like fine wine when playing for his country. Song played for Liverpool and West Ham but had a glittering career for his country. He played in eight AFCON and led his team from the back by winning two of them. Furthermore, Song played in four World Cups, and with 137 appearances, he is the most capped player in Cameroon’s history.
Samuel Kuffour (Ghana/Centre-Back)
Kuffour was a regular starter for Bayern Munich during his playing days. He made 175 appearances in the Bundesliga, winning the league six times and 12 domestic titles in total. Kuffour was a vital part of Bayern Munich’s side in the 1999 and 2001 Champions League campaigns when they reached the final. Kuffour won his first-ever Champions League in 2001 and also scored the winner in Intercontinental Cup against Boca Juniors. Kuffour was very crucial for Ghana as he saw his nation qualify for their first-ever World Cup in 2006.
Lauren (Cameroon/Right Back)
Lauren was an old school full back who made life difficult for wingers with his solid, aggressive and energetic display. Lauren won two Premier League titles and three FA Cups and was one of the unsung heroes in Arsenal’s invincibles team. On an International level, Lauren won two AFCON titles and Olympic gold in 2000. His consistently solid performances won him the best player award in the 2000 African Cup of Nations.
Abedi Pele (Ghana/Centre Midfield)
The ‘African Maradona’ took over European football in the early ‘90s with his pace, flair, dribbling and goalscoring abilities. Abedi got his recognition at Marseille as he won the Champions League title in 1993, becoming one of the first-ever African players to do so. The Ghanaian midfielder scored 33 goals in 67 appearances for his country, making him their third-highest goal scorer. In his prime, Abedi was easily one of the best players in the world as he was named African Player of the Year for three consecutive years.
Yaya Touré (Ivory Coast/Centre Midfield)
Yaya Toure used to bully opposition midfielders during his playing days. His size and strength, along with superb dribbling and creativity, made him an ideal box-to-box midfielder. He was also excellent at set-pieces, long-range shooting, and goalscoring ability. Toure’s career highlight was the 13/14 season when he managed to score 20 goals and provide 9 assists in 35 league appearances.
He was part of the 2008/09 Barcelona side that won sextuple. At Man City, he won three Premier League titles and two league cups. Toure played a crucial role as he saw his country qualify for their first-ever World Cup and also represented the nation in the next two editions. After losing two AFCON finals, Toure lifted his first International trophy in 2015.
Jay-Jay Okocha (Nigeria/Centre Midfield)
If Ronaldinho was a flashy dribbler, then remember Okocha was his mentor. The Nigerian used to showcase his flamboyant skills to make a fool out of his opponents. His most famous display was his goal against Bayern Munich when he toyed with Oliver Kahn and two more defenders before hitting the back of the net. Despite his spells at PSG and Fenerbahçe, Bolton is the club where he made a name for himself.
Okocha transformed a struggling Bolton side from relegation to a top-six club. Okocha also played a significant role for Nigeria by winning the 1994 AFCON and Olympic Gold in 1996. He also represented the Super Eagles in three World Cups.
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast/Centre Forward)
Didier Drogba was a real nuisance who thrived under pressure. Only a few defenders managed to keep him quiet during his prime. A complete package of size, strength, aerial dominance, finishing and long-range shooting made him unplayable. His most impressive trait was to deliver in big games. At Chelsea, Drogba scored 10 goals in 10 finals.
His career-defining moment was in the 2012 Champions League final, where Drogba scored a powerful header against Bayern Munich in the 88th minute to take the game to penalties, where he scored the winning penalty. At Chelsea, Drogba won 11 trophies, including four Premier League titles and four FA Cups.
Drogba was also a crucial player for his national team, leading them to two AFCON finals. Drogba also helped The Elephants qualified for their first World Cup in 2006 and then featured in both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon/Centre Forward)
Eto’o’s finishing made him one of the most potent strikers in the world. In his prime, Eto’o was unstoppable in front of goal.
Eto’o scored 130 goals in 199 appearances for Barcelona with a ratio of 0.65 goals per game. Eto’o was LaLiga’s top scorer in 2005 and 2006, winning them the title on both occasions.
His most important goals came for Barcelona came in the Champions League final, when he equalised in the 2006 final against Arsenal and scored the opener in the 2009 final against Man United. After winning the sextuple, he then moved to Serie A and won the treble with Inter Milan in the following year, making him the only player to win back to back trebles.
Eto’o played in six AFCON and was the top scorer in the 2006 and 2008 editions. He is also the highest goal scorer in the competition with 18 goals. Eto’o represented Cameroon in four World Cups, just the third African player in history to do so. Eto’o has been named as the African Footballer of the Year four times, joint-most along with Yaya Touré. He also won the Bronze Award in the 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year award and was named the UEFA Club Forward of the Year in 2006.
George Weah (Liberia/Centre Forward)
The “greatest of all time” is a term that has been overused over the years, but when we talk about the greatest African footballer of all time, no one comes close to George Weah.
Weah was simply electrifying at the height of his career. Before the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Thierry Henry, Weah was the best of the best. His electrifying speed, along with skill, strength and goalscoring, made him a beast. During the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, Weah was the most feared player on the pitch.
No African player has been able to replicate or even come close to achieving his achievements. To this day, he is the only African player to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award and Ballon d’Or. Two decades later, Weah is still the best African player in the history of football.