The continent of promise
Karim Hagui - Tunisia
Without doubt the tournament’s best young player, Karim Hagui was simply a revelation. The 20-year-old’s form at right-back was so good that Tunisia’s best player, Ajax’s half-fit Hatem Trabelsi, was not really missed and, even when he did come on as a substitute, Hagui showed he is just as comfortable in midfield or at left-back.
In the final he replaced the suspended Khaled Badra in central defence and scarcely put a foot wrong, and there can be no complaints about his temperament either. It was he who scored the winning penalty in the semifinal shoot-out against Nigeria.
Hagui, solid defensively and quick to get forward, seems to have everything it takes to become a world-class player.
He is a new face even for Tunisians, having made his international debut only in October, but in the space of the past three weeks he has become a national icon.
Hagui plays for Stade Tunisien, one of the better teams in the Tunisian league, but a move to a European club surely beckons.
Youssef Hadji - Morocco
He looks exactly like his older brother Moustapha—once of Coventry and Aston Villa but now on a short-term deal with Espanyol in Spain—but arguably has the talent to be a better player than the 1998 African Footballer of the Year.
Despite coming into the competition as a reserve, Youssef Hadji was a major reason why Morocco made it to the final. He came off the bench in the Atlas Lions’ opening game against Nigeria to score the only goal, and then notched important goals in the quarter and semifinals.
The 23-year-old usually plays as an attacking midfielder, but has shown he is more than capable of playing up front, too. He has fantastic technique, quick feet and seems to fear nothing.
Hadji disappointed somewhat in the final, however, and never really looked like scoring, but he did show another side to his game, producing a deft cross for Morocco’s goal. He plays in the French league for Bastia and has scored half a dozen goals for the Corsican club this season.
Vincent Enyeama - Nigeria
In recent years goalkeeper has been a problem position for the Super Eagles, but in Vincent Enyeama they have found a man to banish the nightmare memories of Peter Rufai and Ike Shorunmu.
Enyeama is not a novice to big competition, having played against England at the 2002 World Cup finals, but this was the first tournament in which he started as Nigeria’s number one. He did not disappoint, either, and a series of solid displays saw him voted into the official team of the tournament.
A save in that World Cup match against England best demonstrates his talent. A rocket shot from Paul Scholes seemed destined to hit the net, but Enyeama’s reflexes and agility enabled him to tip the shot on to the woodwork. The game finished goalless.
On top of all that, Enyeama was also a key member of the Enyimba side that won the 2003 African Champions League.
His only shortcoming is size — he could do with being a couple of inches taller — but there is no doubting his talent.
Dennis Oliech - Kenya
Dennis Oliech came into the finals charged with providing Kenya’s attacking thrust. It proved to be quite a responsibility for a 19-year-old who had mainly been used
as a substitute in his international career.
Group games against Mali and Senegal provided glimpses of his evident talent, but the experienced defences of both those big-name teams rendered him scoreless.
Oliech was into the swing of things in the Harambee Stars’ final game, however, scoring a goal and making two others, the second with a cute backheel.
He has pace and dribbling ability in abundance, but will need to work on his left foot: the Senegalese and Malians simply funnelled him away from his dangerous right side.
Oliech plays for Al Arabi in the Qatari league but his dream is to play for Arsenal. Although such a move is surely out of the immediate question, he certainly has the talent to shine elsewhere in Europe.
Pascal Feindouno - Guinea
Pascal Feindouno should be no surprise to British scouts — after all he scored for Bordeaux against Hearts in the Uefa Cup this season — but in Tunisia he gave further proof of his undoubted quality.
Capable of playing as an out-and-out striker, Feindouno is at his best on the right wing, where his speed, quick feet and crossing ability make him a fearsome prospect. He has an eye for goal, too, scoring against the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali.
But his most impressive contributions were a sublime chip in that Congo match which landed on top of the bar, and a 45m pass to set up Titi Camara against Rwanda was even better. Feindouno is halfway through his sixth season in the French league, although he looks older than his 22 years, and has already expressed a desire to move to one of Europe’s biggest leagues. He certainly has
the game to shine wherever he goes. —