M&G dream team: Meet the all-star Afcon line-up
Centre-forward: Aristide Bance (Burkina Faso)
He looked klutzy at times, but things just happen for the galumphing Augsburg striker. He gave Ghana a hellish night in Nelspruit, netting his equaliser with aplomb and then raising eyebrows with a deft "Panenka" penalty in the shootout. Whatever the outcome of the final, Bance will exhaust the Nigerian defence.
Left wing: Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso)
He lost his brilliant forward co-star Alain Traoré to injury in the group phase, but the jet-heeled Pitroipa heroically kept the Burkinabe show on the road with a winner against Togo and won the support of millions when he copped an unjust red card in the semifinal. Pitroipa did not quite convince in Germany with Hamburg, but is reaching his peak at 26 with Rennes. A blue-chip footballer.
Right wing: Emmanuel Emenike (Nigeria)
Not since Daniel Amokachi have Nigeria inflicted such a frightening finisher on the world. The Spartak Moscow star packs a keen nose for the net, bravery in the challenge and a nuclear right boot. If his former club, FC Cape Town, did not secure a long-term slice of his transfer fees when they sold him to Turkey's Karabukspor, they must be kicking themselves.
Attacking midfielder: Seydou Keita (Mali)
He dragged a limited Malian team all the way to the semifinals. Along with his two goals, Keita's cool, commanding presence kept his side organised and resilient, until Nigeria brutally called time on the Malian dream. He was wise to train with Barcelona during the Chinese off-season.
Central midfielder: Charles Kaboré (Burkina Faso)
He has been the chief executive of the Stallions, bossing the midfield fray with his astute interceptions, driving runs and cultured long passes. They are calling Kaboré the "new Claude Makelele" but that moniker does not do justice to the Olympique Marseille star's mix of creative and defensive savvy. Tottenham and several other Premiership sides covet his services.
Central midfielder: John Obi Mikel (Nigeria)
The Chelsea enforcer has socked it to his many critics this month. Mikel looks ever more comfortable and influential in the deep midfield role imposed on him by Jose Mourinho, which once seemed to strangle his great attacking potential. Still only 25, he could become the new Sunday Oliseh of this potent Nigerian generation.
Leftback: Elderson Echiejile (Nigeria)
The nippy Braga fullback decorated his sterling defensive campaign with a stooping header to draw first blood in the semifinal destruction of Mali. Mobile, tough and composed, the 26-year-old promises to be a long-term custodian of his position for the Super Eagles, at the expense of the powerful, but less reliable Taiye Taiwo.
Centreback: Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria)
It has been a storming Nations Cup entrance for the 19-year-old Super Eagles defender, who is playing on loan at Dutch side Den Haag from Chelsea. On this form, he will be back at the Bridge sharpish. If you thwart the mighty Didier Drogba, as he did so assuredly in the quarterfinal – and as a teenager nogal – then you know you are in the right line of work.
Centreback: Nando (Cape Verde)
The towering Blue Sharks skipper reigned supreme in the air and he was no mug on the deck either. Now earning his crust at French second-tier side Chateauroux, the 34-year-old has enjoyed a surprisingly modest, zigzagging career across Europe and the Middle East. Can he stay in the Caboverdean dream until the next Afcon? On this form, why not?
Rightback: Mohammed Koffi (Burkina Faso)
He sports a piratical peroxided bokbaard, but Koffi does not only look tough. The 26-year-old excelled to contain the excellent Togolese winger, Serge Gakpé, in the quarterfinal and did enough to get our nod ahead of Efe Ambrose. A product of the Olympique Marseille youth system, he has worked in Egypt for Petrojet for the past seven years.
Goalkeeper: Fatawu Dauda (Ghana)
He could not prevail in the shootout against the Stallions, but Dawda's catalogue of impressive reflex saves earns him our nod ahead of rivals Kossi "Magic Hands" Agassa of Togo, Bafana's Itumeleng Khune and Nigeria's Vincent Enyeama. The Black Stars' ramshackle rearguard forced him to do plenty of work and his efforts spared them an earlier exit.
Substitutes: Victor Moses (Nigeria); Siyabonga Sangweni (South Africa); Kwadwo Asamoah (Ghana); Alain Traore (Burkina Faso); May Mahlangu (South Africa); Ryan Mendes (Cape Verde); Heldon (Cape Verde); Wakaso Mubarak (Ghana); Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria); Adama Tamboura (Mali); Gervinho (Côte d'Ivoire)