While Egypt’s lifting of their third consecutive CAF Africa Cup of Nations trophy surprised few, there were plenty of revelations at the biennial tournament in Angola. Particularly notable was the emergence of a handful of players that have now planted themselves firmly on world football's radar.
This was not a tournament in which established stars dominated, with the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba never really hitting form. However, a new generation of players emerged to pick up the slack, providing countless memorable moments. Ahmed Hassan was surely an exception, winning the tournament’s best player award in his fourth successful continental campaign, but it was the emergence of super-sub Mohamed 'Gedo' Nagui that was the biggest bonus for Egyptian supporters.
And while Nigeria’s Peter Odemwingie, Mali’s Seydou Keita and Côte d'Ivoire’s Gervinho confirmed their places among the best on the continent, a clutch of unheralded players also caught the eye at this latest Cup of Nations.
Mohamed Nagui, Egypt
The breakout star of the tournament with five goals in as many substitute appearances, the Al Ittihad striker known as Gedo scored a goal for every 35 minutes he was on the pitch. And they were almost all top-class finishes, with his quick-thinking volley against Mozambique in the group stage arguably the best of the lot. His finish in the 85th minute of the final as Egypt beat Ghana 1-0 was every bit as classy though, and even better was his run and full-speed combination play with Mohamed Zidan that set up the chance with extra time looming.
Samuel Inkoom, Ghana
A strong and balanced right back with a knack for finding himself in the middle of attacking action up the other end, Inkoom proved himself to be a good crosser of the ball as well as a solid defender. The 20-year-old Basel youngster was one of six players from the team that won the U-20 World Cup last October, and the only difficult choice for watchers was which of the composed young Ghanaian defenders were best as Isaac Vorsah, 21, and Lee Addy, 19, also enjoyed top-drawer tournaments.
Jonathan Pitroipa, Burkina Faso
The speedy winger was about as impressive as could be for a player whose team didn’t score any goals in the event. The 23-year-old was often left to cover great distances for his side up front, and he in turn showed great acceleration and skill with both feet as his team drew 0-0 with Côte d'Ivoire before falling to Ghana 1-0. It was a measure of his heart against the Black Stars that even though he spent the match taking on more than one defender at a time, he earned praise from Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac and his backline after the match. At the other end, defender Saidou Panandetiguiri, 25, was the best of back for the Burkinabe.
Emmanuel Mbola, Zambia
Aged just 16 years and eight months, the left-back was a strong part of the Zambian team that performed so well in reaching the quarter-finals in Angola. The Armenian-based player impressed with his physical defending and attacking instincts. He was one of the side's best players in the last eight defeat to Nigeria on penalties and has already earned 20 caps for the Chipolopolo. The youngest player in the tournament, he is the second player under 17 to play at a Cup of Nations (after Gabonese striker Nzighou Chiva).
While Flavio, Manucho and Gilberto drew most of the headlines for the hosts, little-known right-sided player Mabina also turned a lot of heads. He was a reserve coming into the event, but the Angola-based player was a tireless threat down the flank in Group A before being stymied along with the rest of his team in the quarter-finals by Ghana. Many are now describing him as the next Gilberto, referring to the 27-year-old winger who stars for Al Ahly in Egypt.
Andre Ayew, Ghana
The son of Black Stars legend Abedi Pele, Ayew has seemed to have little problem adjusting to such lofty comparisons so far in his fledgling career. Also a member of the world champion U-20 Ghana team, the 20-year-old was a confident, positive presence in midfield for the injury-hit Black Stars in Angola. The Marseille player was very comfortable on the ball and excelled in running at opposition defences. He kept his concentration to head home the only goal against Burkina Faso in Group B, which sent his team into the knockout rounds. .
Victor Nsofor Obinna, Nigeria
After coming on as a substitute in each of his country’s first five Cup of Nations matches and impressing with his rangy agility and dangerous running, Nsofor finally started a match in the third-place contest against Algeria. And the player, who is on loan at Malaga from Inter Milan, did not disappoint. The 22-year-old scored the game’s only goal with a tremendous burst of pace through the middle of Les Fennecs' defence before finishing well with his left foot. It was one of the best moments of the tournament for the bronze-medal winners.
Kwadwo Asamoah, Ghana
The 21-year-old Udinese midfielder had one of the sweetest touches in the Cup of Nations, justifying his wearing of the No10 shirt at such a young age. It was his corner kick that curled perfectly onto the head of Asamoah Gyan, who scored the all-important goal in the semi-final against Nigeria. He also showed great skill in the Group B encounter against Côte d'Ivoire with speed and a fine shot that forced the best from goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.
Didier Ovono, Gabon
The goalkeeper, who turned 27 during the tournament, was the hero of the Black Panthers’ shock 1-0 victory over Cameroon to open the tournament. And though the team went out at the group stage based on goals scored, the Le Mans player continued to make an impact with his leadership of the backline and quick reflexes. Ovono only saw his goal breached twice at the CAN, both by Zambia in their third match. Talented young defender Bruno Ecuele Manga also impressed for the Gabonese.