Players born abroad fuelling title push for teams at Afcon


Comoros players pose for a photo prior to the Group ‘C’ match of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations against Ghana at Stade Roumde Adjia in Garoua on January 18. All but one members of the team were born and raised abroad but returned to play for the team at the tournament.

Photo credit: Daniel Olomo | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Nigeria may be out of the tournament, but they were also banking on players born abroad to deliver glory at the tournament.
  • Six of the 28 players coach Augustine Eguavoen brought to Cameroon were either born or raised abroad.

When Algeria won their second Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) title in Egypt in 2019, there were street parties across France to celebrate the 1-0 victory over Senegal in the final.

France 24 reported then how cars were beeping in the French capital, Paris, as crowds waving Algerian flags headed towards the Champs-Élysées to celebrate the Fennec Foxes’ second Afcon crown.

This is understandable as France has a large number of dual nationality French-Algerians due to the country’s colonial history. Had the North Africans lifted the trophy again in Cameroon, the celebrations would have been similar.

Unfortunately, the defending champions crashed out of the delayed 2021 edition of the continental football showpiece in Cameroon at the group stage.

More than half of the Algerian football team is made up of players who were actually born, raised or trained in France. The North African country was just one among the 24 participating countries at the 33rd edition of Afcon with players born abroad on whom the team is counting for glory.

Unlike during the 18th edition of the tournament in 1992 in Senegal where there were only three players among the 12 participating countries who were born in Europe, the number of players participating in the continent’s most prestigious football tournament who were born abroad has grown dramatically.

On the field of play, the tournament is increasingly getting yellow with the increasing numbers of diaspora players, although North African Arabs already makes Afcon yellow.

Comoros are making their debut in the tournament with a squad of French-born footballers except for one.

As was the case during the qualifiers, the Indian Ocean Islanders were not among the favourites but like the other countries, they were counting on the players to write their name in the history books of African football.

They may perhaps not have even qualified had they not depended on migrant communities in Marseille and other areas of France.

In the 2021 edition of Afcon which has 24 teams, just over 30 percent were born in Europe. There are 199 playing for various teams at the ongoing tournament in Cameroon, and one born on Canada. Of the 199, some 122 players were born in France, 21 born in Spain, 16 in England and 12 in the Netherlands, according to statistics from Reuters.

Of the 12 Algerian players born abroad, 11 were born in France including goalkeeper Alexandre Oukidja and Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez. Midfielder, Ramiz Zerrouki is the only one among the players born abroad but not in France. He was born in the Netherlands.

Equatorial Guinea defeated Algeria 1-0 on the second day of the tournament at the Japoma Stadium in Douala.

Esteban Obiang who scored the winning goal is among 16 players born in Spain who are helping the former colony go pass their fourth place finish in 2015. Captain Emilio Nsue, formerly with Middlesbrough and Birmingham City, and Carlos Akapo, who plays for Cadiz in La Liga are also of the group of players born in Spain.

 It should be recalled the Equato- Guineans are making their first appearance in the tournament as qualifiers after co-hosting the 2012 tournament, and hosting it on their own in 2015.

Hosts Cameroon began their sixth title campaign with a victory and went on to become the first nation to book a spot in the round of 16.

Seven of coach Antonio Conceicao’s 28-man squad are players born abroad, including dependable attackers Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Karl Toko-Ekambi who netted two goals in the hosts second group fixture against Ethiopia and was also voted Man of the Match.

Having been born in Germany, Choupo-Moting who prior to the coming of Conceicao adorned the armband, is the lone among the seven to have been born out of France.

Senegal are seeking to win their first ever Afcon crown in Cameroon,and coach Aliou Cisse is also banking on players born abroad. Ten of the 28-man squad the coach brought to Cameroon were born abroad.

Senegalese captain and Napoli Centre-back, Kalidou Koulibaly, Chelsea goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy and Bayern Munich star Bouna Sarr were all born in France. Of the 10 players of the Teranga Lions born abroad, only two Sény Dieng and Keita Baldé were born out of France, having been born in Switzerland and Spain respectively.

Nigeria may be out of the tournament, but they were also banking on players born abroad to deliver glory at the tournament.

Six of the 28 players coach Augustine Eguavoen brought to Cameroon were either born or raised abroad.

They include goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, defenders Leon Balogun, William Troost-Ekong and Ola Aina, along with midfielder Joe Aribo. Everton winger, Alex Iwobi were born in Nigeria but raised in the UK from an early age.

Analysts are of the opinion that having players born or raised abroad play for their home countries helps improve the local game.

“In the technical sense, they bring added value: fresh talent but especially improved technical and tactical flavour to the Africa game and that is evident in team performances and match results,” says Franklin Sone Bayen, a Cameroonian football analyst.

Bayen said most of the upsets at the ongoing tournament in Cameroon are coming from traditionally weaker teams because their home football is mediocre “but with added value from the diaspora players, they can count in the number.”

Egypt, Malawi and Ethiopia have squads made up of players born in their home countries.


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