Africa’s biggest stars are assembling in Gabon ahead of the Nations Cup, but while the tournament will boast no shortage of big-name talent, not all of the continent’s best players have been invited to the two-yearly fiesta.
Those who miss out typically fall into two categories; those players whose nations haven’t qualified for the continental showpiece, and those who won’t be joining their compatriots in Gabon for various different reasons, be it injury, retirement or other personal concerns.
In this feature, KweséSports has picked two dream teams – the absent XI and the non-qualified XI – and assessed which of the two groups represents a bigger loss to the tournament.
Absent: Adam Kwarasey
Despite a plethora of Cameroon stoppers opting out of the tournament, we’ve plumped for Kwarasey as the absent goalkeeper we’re going to miss the most. The 29-year-old – who recently secured a move to Danish heavyweights Brondby – impressed during a stint with the Portland Timbers in Major League Soccer, and while he was unlikely to unseat Razak Brimah, many Ghana fans would have loved to have seen him back between the sticks.
Non-Qualified: Vincent Enyeama
While it’s a shame not to see Itumeleng Khune at the Nations Cup, the stopper we’ll really miss is Enyeama. The Cat retired from Nigeria duty after a fallout with Sunday Oliseh, and with the Super Eagles not qualifying anyway, he was never going to make it.
However, it would have been terrific to have seen Enyeama – one of Africa’s all-time greatest stoppers – enjoy one final major tournament.
Biggest Miss: Vincent Enyeama
Absent: Allan Nyom
Remarkably, Nyom’s impasse with the Cameroon FA and West Bromwich Albion continues after the right-back rejected the Indomitable Lions’ invitation to join their Nations Cup squad.
He had been their first choice in the full-back berth until right up to the tournament, and while he did travel to Paris to meet up with the squad, the Baggies are unwilling to use him until his ongoing wrangle with Cameroon – who have asked Fifa to suspend the player from club duty – is resolved.
Non-Qualified: Victor Moses
The Chelsea wideman has been reinvented under Antonio Conte this season, thriving in a right wing-back role where he has more defensive responsibility, but handles it well due to his speed and boundless energy.
While he may not have played in this role for Nigeria had they qualified, it’s a disappointment that this in-form talent – a hero of the 2013 Nations Cup – misses out.
Biggest Miss: Victor Moses
Absent: Joel Matip
Hugo Broos couldn’t tempt Matip to end his international exile, despite the allure of playing in neighbouring Gabon, with the centre-back opting to continue establishing himself at Liverpool following his summer signing for the Reds.
The Central African surely won’t regret his decision if Liverpool can continue to maintain their title challenge!
The 28-year-old has established himself as one of the most consistent centre-backs in Ligue 1 since moving to Stade Rennais from Nacional in 2014.
Mexer certainly has enough quality to thrive at the Afcon, and with Mozambique having been drawn in a fairly friendly 2019 qualifying group against Zambia, Guinea-Bissau and Namibia, perhaps in two years’ time his moment will have come!
Biggest Miss: Joel Matip
Absent: Aurelien Chedjou
Such is the depth of Cameroon’s strength in depth in the heart of the defence, that they can still call upon quality of the calibre of Nicolas N’Koulou and Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui despite being without the aforementioned Matip and Stephane Mbia.
However, none of the current options can quite match the strength of character, leadership skills and force of personality of Chedjou.
Might this end up costing the Indomitable Lions?
Non-Qualified: Eric Mathoho
It’s a great shame that Tower, one of the veterans of the 2015 Nations Cup, isn’t present this time around following Bafana Bafana’s failure to qualify, with Cameroon advancing from their group.
The defender reaffirmed his class in the international environment at the 2016 Olympics, while his budding relationship with Rivaldo Coetzee is a jot to witness.
Biggest Miss: Aurelien Chedjou
Absent: Pape Souare
Souare would surely have been Senegal’s first-choice left-back at the Nations Cup had it not been for the devastating car crash he suffered earlier in the season. He’s still making his long and arduous comeback from the injuries suffered in that crash, with Saliou Ciss set to deputise during Afcon.
There aren’t too many quality African left-backs whose nations didn’t qualify for the tournament, but Elderson – despite his limitations – deserves a mention for his quality contributions during Nigeria’s title-winning campaign in 2013, notably in the semi-final victory over Mali.
Biggest Miss: Pape Souare
Absent: Yaya Toure
The legendary Ivorian midfielder called time on his international career in late 2016, having guided the Elephants to the title in 2015.
As he proved in action for Manchester City against Crystal Palace recently, he’s still capable of big performances, but the reigning champions are well stocked in his absence.
Non-Qualified: Victor Wanyama
Big Vic is the latest in the long and prestigious line of powerful African anchormen who have made careers of dominating the midfield, and, still at an early stage of his career, the Kenya international has the potential to be among the best the continent has produced.
He’s taken to life at a higher level easily since moving to Tottenham Hotspur in the summer, but the Harambee Stars’ failure to qualify means he won’t be present in Gabon.
Biggest Miss: Victor Wanyama
Absent: Kwadwo Asamoah
After steadily finding his way back to full fitness after a few injury ravaged campaigns, there was great hope that Asabob would mark his return with a Black Stars comeback ... just in time for the Nations Cup.
However, things didn’t ultimately go to plan, as while Asamoah is back in action with Juventus – he’s featured seven times in Serie A so far this season – he ruled himself out of Afcon contention as he looks to return to top form.
It’s a great blow for the Black Stars, who genuinely lack a key creative talent in the heart of the park.
Non-Qualified: Naby Keita
Dynamic central midfielder who’s been one of the key protagonists in RasenBallsport Leipzig’s remarkable maiden Bundesliga campaign.
He would surely have made Guinea competitive had they qualified, but failure to escape their group means the last tournament’s quarter-finalists miss out.
Biggest Miss: Kwadwo Asamoah
Absent : Yannick Bolasie
Bolasie is another one of the star players – arguably the biggest – to have missed out through injury.
He was one of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s key men as they reached the semi-finals of the last Nations Cup, and without him, it becomes tricky to see the Leopards advancing past a tricky group stage.
Non-Qualified: Ahmed Musa
Despite being a member of Nigeria’s 2013 Nations Cup-winning side, Musa has never truly left his mark on an Afcon, having been largely used as an impact substitute during that competition.
He shone at the World Cup in 2014 and has a taste for the big occasion, but Nigeria’s failure to qualify has robbed him of the chance of impressing in Gabon.
Biggest Miss: Yannick Bolasie
Absent: Sofiane Boufal
Southampton playmaker Boufal had appeared set to emerge as one of the stars of the tournament, with the magnificent attacking midfielder boasting the flair, dribbling skills and panache to take Herve Renard’s Morocco to the next level.
Unfortunately, a knee injury suffered in January has ruled him out of contention. It’s a major loss for Morocco, and for the tournament itself.
Non-Qualified: Kelechi Iheanacho
The wonderkid has already emerged as one of the figureheads of the Super Eagles’ vibrant young side under Gernot Rohr, and while he’s enduring something of a testing second season at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, he looks destined for the very top of the game.
Biggest Miss: Sofiane Boufal
A winner with the Cote d’Ivoire in 2015, Gervinho was denied what would have been his Elephants swansong when he picked up a devastating cruciate knee ligament injury at the end of 2016.
He’s still capable of magic, despite a move to China, and while his absence has opened the door for Wilfried Zaha to take a starting berth, he’ll still be missed.
Non-Qualified: Alex Iwobi
Precocious Arsenal wideman who looked the part for the Gunners soon after stepping into the first team. He’s another member of Nigeria’s exciting ‘New Generation’, and while the Eagles missed out on the 2017 showpiece, Iwobi is sure to grace several Afcons in the years to come.
Biggest Miss: Gervinho
Absent: Benik Afobe
The Bournemouth frontman has been teasing an international debut for much of the year, but when push came to shove and Florent Ibenge named him in his DR Congo squad, the ex-Arsenal trainee pulled out in order to concentrate on his club career.
Non-Qualified: Ze Luis
Cape Verde missed out on qualification after a disappointing display in their qualifying group, but one or two of the continent’s defenders will probably be fairly glad, as it means they won’t have to contend with Ze Luis.
The Spartak Moscow hitman has five goals and four assists in 12 games in the Russian Premier League so far this season, and could have fired the islanders out of their group.
Biggest Miss: Ze Luis
Final Result: Absent 7 Non-Qualified 4
By Ed Dove
@EddyDove on Twitter