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Who is the best among equals? The glorious times of the Songo’os, Zakis and Rufais are over. The elders have successfully passed on the mantle to a new and energetic generation of goalies drenched in talent. But who is the best among them? Kameni, M’Bolhi, Enyeama, Kingson, Barry, El Hadary...?
Notwithstanding the continent having produced some of the greatest goalkeeping talents of all time, like Jacques Songo’o, Thomas N’Kono, Chokri El Ouaer, Joseph-Antoine Bell, Peter Rufai and others like Badou Zaki, African nations, from the European point of view, lack goalkeeping heroes.
But the 2010 World Cup has proved critics wrong. The continent’s goalies were incandescent with talent at the just ended international meeting. Itumeleng Khune (South Africa), Vincent Enyema (Nigeria), Richard Kingson (Ghana) and M’Bolhi Rais (Algeria) proved themselves as great forces to be reckoned with.
Traditionally, one had to turn to Cameroon for the continent’s last standing bulwarks. Jacques Song’o, Thomas N’Kono and Joseph-Antoine Bell seemed to have found a worthy successor in the person of Carlos Idriss Kameni. But Espanyol’s goalkeeper, who won Olympic gold in Sydney at barely 16 years, is not in top form. After a disastrous CAN, he lost his number one position in the 2010 World Cup squad to a more experienced Souleymanou Hamidou. But Kayserispor’s number 1 did not really cinch the expected defense for the lethargic Indomitable Lions either.
Chaouchi out, in M’Bolhi
An equally lethargic Algeria’s Faouzi Chaouchi got licked in his first game against Slovenia (1-0). The ES Setif goalkeeper, undeniably guilty of that goal, gave way to Rais M’Bolhi, who was until then the virtually unknown soldier from Slavia Sofia. Two classy matches later, the man who was voted best goalkeeper of the Bulgarian Championship caught the watchful eyes of football enthusiasts as he floated on the pitch with great assurance, impeccable passes and a near precise sense of orientation. His performance is a far cry from the whimsical Chaouchi, who is capable of performing the most amazing miracles (Khartoum) as well as the most horrifying nightmares (his expulsion in the semifinals of the CAN 2010).
And what about the kings of Africa? Voted the best goalkeeper in three consecutive CANs (2006, 2008, 2010), the 37 year-old Egyptian goalkeeper, Essam El Hadary of Damietta is in top form. While he cannot be blamed for Egypt’s failure to qualify for South Africa 2010, he nevertheless was instrumental in this year’s crowning of the Pharaohs as African kings in Angola. So, is he not the best African goalkeeper?
Nonetheless, it was the outsiders who shone with flying colours at the 2010 World Cup. First of all is Nigeria’s Enyeama Vincent who was knighted after his first match by the heroic King Lionel Messi himself. The Tel Aviv Hapoël based goalie got himself an honourable red-carpet attention and might just find himself getting his suitcases ready to hit a known European club. A destiny that South Africa’s Khune won’t say no to. The 23 year-old Bafana Bafana guardian angel’s World Cup experience remains to be clearly comprehended: A hero during the opening match he got booted off the pitch after he was shown a red card whilst playing against Uruguay, thus spelling the doom of his teammates.
But how can we forget Richard Kingson of Ghana, quarter-finalists in the World Cup? Never a show seeker and always a safe bet, Kingson plays the role of the eternal replacement at club level (10 games in two years), despite making it to the top of his country’s selection in every selection. And for good reason: The Black Stars can count on him.
Other contenders to the title of Africa’s best goalie are Boubacar Barry Copa for Côte d’Ivoire, Robert Muteba Kidiaba the Congolese or Nigeria’s Ikechukwu Ezenwa. But who is really Africa’s best goalkeeper?