An African nation has advanced to the quarterfinals twice in the last three World Cups, with Senegal reaching the final eight in 2002 and Ghana doing the same in 2010. And if the continent is quickly catching up to the rest of the world, the credit goes to a growing crop of great players. Here's our picks for the top 10 Africans headed to next month's World Cup in Brazil:
1. Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast): A box-to-box midfielder, the 31-year-old Toure has won the last three African player-of-the-year awards and helped Manchester City to two of the last three English Premier League titles. This will be his third World Cup and he has also played in five African Cup of Nations tournaments.
2. Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon): Eto'o is the most decorated African player of all time. He has won a record four continental player-of-the-year trophies, finished third in the world player-of-the-year balloting in 2005, is the all-time leading scorer in the African Cup of Nations and with his national team, will be playing in an African-record fourth World Cup. A striker, the 33-year-old Eto'o scored more than 100 times in five seasons with Barcelona, made more appearances in the Spanish league than any other African and is one of only two players to score in two Champions League final.
3. Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast): One of the greatest players in African history, Drogba may be a bit past his prime at 36. But he is a two-time winner of the continent's player-of-the-year award — he finished in the top three six other times — is headed to his third World Cup and has 99 caps with the national team. Outside Africa, he may be best remembered for his performance against Bayern Munich in the 2012 Champions League final, when his score in the 88th minute sent the game into overtime and his goal in a penalty-kick shootout won the title for Chelsea.
4. Asamoah Gyan (Ghana): A 28-year-old striker, Gyan is best remembered in this country for the overtime goal that eliminated the U.S. in the knockout stage in 2010 and best remembered at home for missing a penalty kick in overtime that kept Ghana from advancing to the World Cup semifinals. His goal against the U.S. was his third in four games in South Africa and his 39 goals — in 78 games — is the most by a player from Ghana.
5. Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria): A goalkeeper, Enyeama has spent most of his professional career in Israel, where he was selected the country's top player in 2009. Enyeama, 31, made his World Cup debut in 2002, shutting out England in group play, and his 89 international caps are second-most in Nigerian history.
6. Wilfried Bony (Ivory Coast): A 25-year-old striker, Bony scored 16 times for Swansea City this season, finishing sixth in the Premier League in scoring, and has eight goals in 23 caps for Ivory Coast. This will be his first World Cup.
7. Emmanuel Eminike (Nigeria): Eminike, a 27-year-old striker, has scored 10 times in 21 games since making his international debut in 2011. In 2013, he scored four times to help Nigeria win its first African Cup in 20 years. And in the final round of World Cup qualifiers, he scored twice in a win over Ethiopia.
8. Nicolas N'Koulou (Cameroon): Only 24, N'Koulou has made more than 170 appearances for French league teams Monaco and Marseille and has 36 caps for Cameroon as a central defender, where he is the mainstay of the back line. Played in all three of Cameroon's games in South Africa as a 20-year-old.
9. John Obi Mikel (Nigeria): A holding midfielder, Mikel has made more than 200 appearances for Chelsea and has 51 international caps for Nigeria. The 27-year-old sat out the last World Cup because of injury but scored against Uruguay in last summer's Confederations Cup.
10. Alex Song (Cameroon): A holding midfielder who has made more than 180 appearances for European giants Barcelona and Arsenal, the 26-year-old Song was the only Cameroonian selected to the all-tournament team in the 2010 African Cup of Nations. He played in one of three games for Cameroon in the 2010 World Cup.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun