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Cover Story

EAGLES, LIONS AND ELEPHANTS



SALOMON KALOU, received a lot of media attention over his possible naturalisation as a Dutch citizen.

As a race, they are known for their natural athleticism; as footballers, they are going from strength to strength. Speed and power come easily to them; but years of hard work have made them technically sharp too. James Hardy presents the stars who can make 2010 Africa's World Cup


SAMUEL ETO'O

Country: Cameroon; Club: Inter Milan

Transfer Value: $29m

International Record: 94 caps, 44 goals

Samuel Eto'o, who plays as a striker for Inter Milan, is the inspirational captain of Cameroon. He started off with Real Madrid but couldn't force his way into a team studded with Galacticos. He was sold to Mallorca in 2004; he stayed there for four seasons before his big move to Barcelona. Here, combining with Ronaldinho, he emerged as one of the best strikers in the game. He scored over 100 goals in five seasons with the Catalan club, including a goal each in two Champions League finals. He signed for Inter in 2009 as part of an exchange deal involving Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He was part of the Cameroon squad that won the 2000 Olympic gold.

YAYA TOURE

Country: Ivory Coast; Club: Barcelona

Transfer Value: $12.2 m I International Record: 45 caps, 5 goals

Nicknamed the 'new Patrick Vieira' by older brother Kolo, Yaya has earned the reputation of being the defensive lynchpin of an all-conquering Barcelona side. As a defensive midfielder, he couples power with technique. He had trials with Kolo's former club Arsenal, but a permanent move failed to materialize and he began with Monaco. After a mixed bag of performances, he joined the Catalans in 2007. He is the first player from Ivory Coast to play for Barcelona. He has 45 caps with the national team; he represented the team in its first appearance in a FIFA World Cup, in 2006.

KOLO TOURE

Country: Ivory Coast; Club: Manchester City

Transfer Value: $21.4m I Intl Record: 76 caps, 1 goal

Toure made his name quickly at Arsenal when he joined them in 2002, after a very brief trial. He started off his career as a midfielder and right back; but in the following season, he formed a deadly partnership with Sol Campbell in the heart of their defence. His best season was in '05-06 when he helped the Club keep a clean sheet for 10 consecutive games, all the way to the Champions League final. But injuries and patchy form dogged him in the ensuing years and, after an alleged training field bust-up with William Gallas, he was sold to Manchester City in 2009.

SALOMON KALOU

Country: Ivory Coast; Club: Chelsea

Transfer Value: UNDISCLOSED

International Record: 27 caps, 11 goals

In 2005, Kalou received a lot of media attention over his possible naturalisation as a Dutch citizen. The Dutch coach, Marco van Basten, regarded him as a great talent, and an official application was also made. However, the Minister of Immigration refused to consider his submission for an accelerated process. The forward subsequently went on to play for his motherland. He is a striker, often used on the wings by Chelsea. He has a preference for playing on the left wing, as this allows him to cut inside and take shots with his favoured right foot.

DIDIER DROGBA

Nickname: Top Drog

Country: Ivory Coast, Club: Chelsea

Transfer Value: $49m

International Record: 66 matches, 43 goals

Didier Yves Drogba Tébily is a proud Ivorian footballer, dreaded in the centre forward position. He signed his first professional contract as late as 21. He moved to Marseille in 2003 and finished as the third highest scorer there, even making it to the 2004 UEFA Cup final. Drogba moved to Chelsea the following season for a record £24 million, making him the most expensive Ivory Coast player. He promptly helped the club win its first ever EPL title. In 2006, he came to prominence as one of the world's foremost strikers and captained the national team for the first time. In 2009, he was chosen as the African Footballer of the Year.

JON OBI MIKEL

Country: Nigeria; Club: Chelsea

Transfer Value: $24.5m

International Record: 15 caps, 1 goal

Mikel found himself under intense scrutiny over a transfer wrangle in 2005, involving Lyn Oslo, Manchester United and Chelsea. While Man U struck a deal with Oslo, Chelsea agreed to his terms with the player's agents. The issue was resolved in 2006, with Mikel going to Chelsea and Man U and Oslo getting a compensation. A defensive midfielder, he was cast as the replacement for Claude Makelele; in recent seasons, he has risen to expecations, playing like the French star for Chelsea.

STEVEN PIENAAR

Country: South Africa; Club: Everton

Transfer Value: $3m I International Record: 45 caps, 2 goals

Pienaar made his mark at Holland's Ajax. He was, in fact, a pivotal member of the title winning squads in 2002 and 2004. In 2006, he signed for Borussia Dortmund as a replacement for Thomas Rosicky. But he failed to recapture his earlier form and was loaned out to Everton in 2007. The loan deal was made permanent in 2008. Primarily operating as a winger, he can play on either flank.

KARIM ZIANI

Country: Algeria; Club: Wolfsburg

Transfer Value: $10m

International Record: 52 caps, 4 goals

The forward thinking midfielder is the artist who's at the heart of his country's qualifying wins in the road to the World Cup. A familiar face in Eric Gerets' starting eleven during his time at Marseille, he moved to German champions Wolfsburg in the summer of 2009. Midfield is Algeria's strength, and Ziani is most likely to pounce on captain Yazid Mansouri's through balls and make the Desert Foxes a potent force on the world scene, after a 24-year absence from the elite event.

ALEXANDRE SONG

Country: Cameroon; Club: Arsenal

Transfer Value: $1.5m I International Record: 15 caps, 0 goals

Song joined the Bastia youth team in 2003–04 . He became a part of the first team the following season, and made 34 appearances. He impressed Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger during Arsenal's pre-season training camp in Austria. Arsenal secured his services on loan for 2005–06 and agreed to a £1-million fee in June 2006. They signed him up on a fouryear contract. He plays as a defensive midfielder, though he has played as a stand-in centre-back and right-back too. Originally, a utility player on the fringes of the Arsenal team, he slowly became an integral part of the first team during the season running up to the 2009-10 campaign.

OBAFEMI MARTINS

Country: Nigeria; Club: Wolfsburg

Transfer Value: $13.7m I Intnl Record: 31 caps, 16 goals

Martins is a typical Nigerian footballer with his speed and powerplay. He turns out as a forward for both Nigeria and German club Wolfsburg. Martins has two brothers who also play the game professionally: elder brother Oladipupo Olarotini Martins and younger brother John Ronan Martins. The name 'Obafemi' translates literally to 'the king loves me' in the Yoruba language. He made his name at Newcastle United in England though.

EMMANUEL EBOUÉ

Country: Ivory Coast; Club: Arsenal

Transfer Value: $2.35m

International Record: 50 caps, 1 goal

Eboué began his football career at the famous ASEC Mimosas youth academy in Ivory Coast, like former teammate Kolo Touré . In 2002, he moved to ASEC's Belgian feeder club, Beveren, and spent three seasons there. His impressive performances in Belgium caught the eye of Arsenal scouts. Eboue, however, has a love-hate relationship with fans, who view him as a blot in the free-flowing Gunner style. He plays mainly in the right-back position for the club, but at times he fills in as a right midfielder too.

NWANKO KANU

Country: Nigeria; Club: Portsmouth

Transfer : FREE AGENT

International Record: 82 caps, 13 goals

Chim chiminy, chim chiminy, chimchim chiroo, who needs Anelka when we've got Kanu?” That was the popular chant at Arsenal, where the Nigerian spent his best years from 1999 to 2004. Having overcome a heart defect, he became the most decorated player in African football history. Kanu, 33, is known for scoring outrageous goals. He scored the winning goals in both the semifinal and final in Portsmouth's 2007-08 FA Cup triumph, Expectations are low in South Africa, but he has often been the surprise package.

CARLOS KAMENI

Country: Cameroon; Club: Espanyol

Transfer Value: UNDISCLOSED

International Record: 54 caps, 1 goal

Kameni likes to think big. That's why he believes that the Indomitable Lions can win the World Cup. While this may seem like a tall claim from the 26-year-old goalkeeper, Cameroon is not a side to underestimate. At Spanish club Espanyol, he set the record for minutes without conceding a goal, at 497. And lest you forget, he is the youngest footballer to win an Olympic gold medal (2000).

MICHAEL ESSIEN

Country: Ghana; Club: Chelsea

Transfer Value: $40m

International Record: 51 caps, 9 goals

Essien , who idolised Roy Keane, is an all-round midfielder. He can play multiple roles there (both, defensively and offensively) and is often touted as a boxto-box midfielder for his ability to exert boundless energy to both offence and defence. Essien made his mark at Lyon where he was voted 2005 Player of the Year by France's National Union of Professional Footballers. In 2005, Lyon and Chelsea agreed a £26-million fee for the Ghanaian, where he continued to flourish in various roles. He has often been deployed as a defensive midfielder, but has also played as a centre midfielder, a right-sided defender or a right-sided midfielder. What's more, he can play as right-back or centre-back too. He will be the key to Ghana's chances in the World Cup.

DIDIER ZOKORA

Country: Ivory Coast; Club: Sevilla

Transfer Value: $13m

International Record: 78 caps, 1 goal

Along with Yaya Toure, 29-year-old Zokora provides bite in the Ivory Coast without forgetting his defensive duties. Zokora was on the most wanted list after his exploits at the previous World Cup, but rejected the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal to join Tottenham, where he lost his touch. At Sevilla, however, his strong tactical play has come into focus.

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