Pulse Sports' Thomas Freeman Yeboah presents to you the masters of the defensive art who will be heading to Gabon for the 2017 AFCON
The AFCON will be a platform for many of Africa's great talents to prove themselves at the highest level - and most of these talents are expected to be attackers. But what about the defenders? The pillars that hold champions together? As Sir Alex Ferguson once said, "Attack wins you games, but defence wins you championships." Here's a list of the top defenders to look out for in Gabon.
The 24-year-old Ivorian who plays for Paris Saint Germain (PSG) is in no doubt the best right back on the African continent at the moment. His surging runs and dribbling are entertaining and he has been enjoying regular football in the French Ligue 1 with the champions, having been selected 11 times this season and also played 21 times last season.
He was part of the Ivory Coast team that won the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, playing in all the six games and impressing. He was shortlisted for the CAF Team of the Tournament.
Having gained experience in 2015 and being in great form this season at club level, Serge Aurier is one of the defenders who are expected to glitter in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
The young versatile Ghanaian player is expected to rise up to the occasion in this AFCON. Amartey joined Leicester City from FC Copenhagen in the Danish top flight in the January transfer window last season, but Claudio Ranieri now prefers to use him in defensive midfield position to provide cover for the backline. His national team coach Avram Grant handed him a starting place in Ghana’s last two FIFA World Cup qualifiers: Ghana vs Uganda and Ghana vs Egypt because he is arguably the most in-form Black Stars centre-back. Despite being played out of position at club level, the Israeli tactician is expected to play him ahead of either John Boye or Jonathan Mensah.
Daniel Amartey made his debut appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015, appearing in all of Ghana’s group games in the competition, but was sidelined due to injury in the knockout stage, as the Black Stars navigated their way through to the grand finale, but lost on penalty shootout against their Ivorian counterparts. Amartey has played 17 of Leicester City 20 English Premier League games this season and has scored a goal.
Koulibaly is a Senegalese footballer who plays as centre back for Serie A club Napoli. He is recognised for his passing ability and versatility, as he can play as a central defender, right back or defensive midfielder. The 25-year-old has featured 16 times for Napoli in the Serie A this season, starting in all those games; whereas he played 33 games for the Italian giants last season. Born in France, he had the chance to play for Les Bleus, but opted to play for Senegal, despite an interest from the French coach Didier Deschamps to call him. He made his national team debut for the Teranga Lions against Namibia in a 2-0 win in September, 2015.
A hard-tacking defender who reads the game very well. Eric Bailly was one of the best performing defenders in the La Liga last season with Villarreal and that compelled Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho to splash a reported £30 million to bring him to Old Trafford. He hit the ground running by adapting to Premier League and eventually emerged as the Manchester United defender of the Month of August. The 25-year-old has got just 17 caps for Ivory Coast, yet it appears he has more looking at the sort of stability he brings to the defence of the Elephants. Bailly was part of the Ivory Coast team that defeated Ghana on penalties in the last edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) to win their second continental showpiece, playing in all six games during the tournament. Bailly has made 12 appearances for Manchester United this season and made 25 at Villarreal in the 2015-16 season.
The Valencia centre-back has been a consistent performer in his position over the past seasons, earning him a place in the CAF Team of the Year in two consecutive seasons. In August 2015, after a sensational season with Monaco, Abdennour signed a five-year deal until 2020 with La Liga side Valencia CF for an undisclosed fee, mainly as a replacement for Manchester City-bound Nicolás Otamendi.
He has been part of the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia since 2009, following an excellent performance in the domestic league. Aymen Abdennour has represented his nation Tunisia in the last three Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournaments.
Lomalisa, 23, is a Congolese left full back who plays for AS Vita in his home country. He has been in a fantastic form for both club and country this year with his impressive overlapping prowess, moving deep in the opponents’ goal area to support the attack. Lomalisa played a key role in helping AS Vita qualify for the CAF Champions’ League group stage, but were thrown out of the tournament for using an eligible play against Mamelodi Sundowns, who travelled all the way to win the final. His great output last year paid off, as he was selected for the CAF Team of the Year 2016.
Ghoulam is the left back of Italian Serie A side Napoli. The 25-year-old has made 15 appearances in the Serie A, starting 14 of such games, while he played 34 of the 38 Serie A games last season
He represented Algeria in both 2013 and 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and also in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Ghoulam has scored five goals from his left back position due to his ability to join attack and position himself well.