European flavour to African finals
One of the stranger anomalies at the upcoming CAF Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2008 will be the meeting between Emerse Fae and Jean-Francois Jodar. One is a midfielder for Côte d'Ivoire and the other is the coach of Mali. The two countries clash in Group B in Accra on 29 January.
It would seem ordinary enough but the pair were both winners of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2001 - for France.
Fae, born in Nantes, is among a growing list of Europe-born players who have changed their international allegiance with the blessing of FIFA and are to be found at the tournament in Ghana. There are also a bevy of players born on the Old Continent who committed themselves to African nations from an early age and are now among its top stars. France-born Marouane Chamakh of Morocco is a vivid example of this.
Jodar and Fae share their special connection with another player at the Africa Cup of Nations; the Tunisian Chaouki Ben Saada, who was also a gold medalist in the Caribbean in 2001.
Other former French youth internationals like Frederic Kanoute and Mohamed Lamine Sissoko have also forged a reputation in African football in recent years. The former is on a three-man shortlist for the African Footballer of the Year award, which will be handed out on 1 February, and should he triumph he will become its first-ever Europe-born recipient. Kanoute's performances for Sevilla and Mali in 2007 give him a strong chance of edging out the Chelsea pair of Didier Drogba and Michael Essien.
France-born footballers are to be found in the squads of Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia. The number of players at the continental finals born elsewhere in Europe has also grown recently.
Teenager Karamoko Cisse, Italian by birth, stands by to make his Africa Cup of Nations debut for Guinea, while Switzerland-born Alain Gaspoz holds the distinction, at 37, of being the oldest player in the tournament. Quincy Owusu Abiyie, born in Amsterdam to Ghanaian parents, was only last week cleared by FIFA to play for the Black Stars after appearing for the Dutch at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Netherlands 2005.
For a third successive tournament, Nigeria have again called up Peter Odemwingie, who was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan to a Nigerian father and Russian mother. The slightly built striker has become a veritable citizen of the world during his playing career with stops at clubs in Nigeria, Belgium, France and now Lokomotiv Moscow in his mother's homeland.
Côte d'Ivoire's back-up goalkeeper is Stephan Loboue, born in Pforzheim in Germany. As a junior he made the Germany U-18 squad coached by Uli Stielike. Years later he was reunited again with the same coach, who picked him for the tournament in Ghana. Stielike, unfortunately, has since handed over the reigns of the Ivorian side to Gerard Gili after his son fell ill.
Dede Ayew, at 18, is being tipped to follow in the footsteps of his father Abedi Pele, who captained Ghana and was a three-time African Footballer of the Year. Dede was born in Seclin, France while his father played at Lille, and he flirted briefly with playing for the French youth teams before deciding to follow the path of his illustrious parent.