The African Stars of European Football
Euro 2016 has entered the knockout rounds. These are the players of African descent at the highest level of European football.
Four years ago, Mario Balotelli—an Italian of Ghanian descent—became the protagonist of the European Championships hosted by Poland and Ukraine. While the tournament was ultimately won by Spain who beat Italy in the final, it was in the semifinal against Germany that Balotelli shined.
He scored two goals in a performance that included a shirt-removing celebration that was seen around the world, and reminded football fans that players with African roots are an integral part of European football.
Although Balotelli was not called up by Italy this time, footballers of African descent are once more an essential part of the European tournament being played this summer in France. As the knockout rounds begin this weekend, here are some of the African players to look out for at the Euros.
Jordan and Romelu Lukaku
The Lukaku brothers, of Congolese origin, were the protagonists of one of the most moving moments of the tournament. Romelu (who plays for Everton) scored two goals against Ireland to seal Belgium’s qualification to the next round. After scoring one of them, Romelu ran to hug his brother Jordan (who plays for Oostende), who was on the bench, and cried with happiness.
Tottenham’s midfielder Moussa Démbéle has a Malian father and a Flemish mother. After a great season in England, he’s also had a great Euro.
The son of former Kenyan international Mike Origi, Divock plays for Liverpool, and decided to represent Belgium, where he has provided excitement, but is yet to score in this tournament.
The Tottenham midfielder, son of a Yoruba Nigerian father, and an English mother, has been making his way in the English team and is expected to start in the knockouts.
Machester United’s big-haired midfielder was born in Belgium to Moroccan parent. A less-than-optimal performance in the tournament has seen him drop out of the starting XI.
Batshuayi is of Congolese descent and could have qualified to play for DR Congo. However, he chose to represent his native Belgium. He plays as a striker for Olympique de Marseille.
Benteke was born in Kinshasa when it was part of Zaire (now DR Congo), but he emigrated to Belgium with his family as a child. He plays as a striker for Liverpool.
Denayer has a Congolese mother and a Belgian father. He plays for Galatasaray as a center back.
Kabasele was born in Lubumbashi, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire). He plays as center back for Genk in Belgium.
Payet, who is from Réunion, a French island between Madagascar and Mauritius, has been one of the most exciting players of the tournament, lifting France to a late victory against Romania in the first game, and scoring late against Albania as well. The West Ham striker definitely promises to be an attraction for the knockout rounds.
The Juventus star, whose parents are Guinean, has yet to score a goal in this tournament, but he has played every game and has been a positive offensive influence on his team.
Kanté had a historic season which saw his team, Leicester City, win the English league for the first time ever, and despite facing 5000-to-1 odds. His speed and stamina got him his first call up for France in March of this year. Before, he had been approached by the Malian FA, but he decided to stay with France, much to the delight of French fans this summer.
Evra was born in Dakar, Senegal, but has been a starter for France since 2004. His father was Senegalese of Guinean descent and a diplomat, who moved the family to Belgium, and then to France, when Evra was still young. He is a left back and a regular starter for Juventus. He also has been the victim of various Pogba’s pranks during the tournament.
Sagna was born in France to Senegalese parents. He tried to join the Senegalese team when he was 17, but got no reply. Eventually he was called up by France. He plays as a right back for Manchester City.
The Toulouse midfielder is of Angolan and Congolese heritage. Despite his speed and his 44 caps, his irregular form has made him a doubtful starter for the rest of the tournament.
Sissoko plays for Newcastle as a midfielder. He was born in the suburbs of Paris to Malian parents.
Rami was born in Corsica, France, to Moroccan parents. Even though the Moroccan FA tried to recruit him, he rejected them and chose France. He plays for Sevilla as a center back.
Mandanda is France’s second choice goalkeeper. He was born in Kinshasa, and is Olympique de Marseille’s starting goalkeeper.
Mangala is of Congolese descent, but was born in France and lived most of his life in Belgium. The Belgian FA tried to recruit him but was unable to do so because Mangala lacked a passport. He plays for Manchester City as a center back.
Boateng’s half-brother Kevin Prince opted to play for their father’s homeland, Ghana. However, Jerome decided to play for their native country, Germany, where he has been a starting defender for almost a decade.
Khedira was born in Germany to a Tunisian father and a German mother. He has played for the German senior team since 2009. He plays as a midfielder for Juventus.
Tah, who plays for Bayer Leverkusen, has an Ivorian mother and a German father. He debuted for Germany in March and was called up to the Euros to replace injured Antonio Rüdiger.
Sané is the son of former German rhythmic gymnast champion Regina Weber and former footballer and Senegalese international Souleyman Sané. He plays as a winger for Schalke 04.
Stephan El Shaarawy
“The Pharaoh” has an Egyptian father, and a Swiss-Italian mother. As a young player, he opted to play for Egypt, but then coach Hassan Shehata rejected him, saying that “not every Egyptian playing for a foreign league qualifies for the national side.” He then was called up for the Italian U-17 national team, and eventually made his way to the senior team. After a long career lull, he found his form back at Roma.
Ogbonna was born in Italy to Nigerian parents. Like Balotelli, he only managed to obtain Italian citizenship after turning 18. He plays for West Ham as a center back.
Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha has been a staple of the Portuguese team for over a decade, even though he was born in Praia, Cape Verde. He currently plays as a winger for Fenerbahçe in Turkey.
Benfica’s Sanches was born to a father from São Tomé and Príncipe, and a mother from Cape Verde. At only 18 years old, he’s the youngest player to have been called up for the Portuguese national team.
Carvalho plays for Lisbon’s Sporting and was born in Angola. Like many other Angola greats, he decided to join the Portuguese national team, where he plays as a defensive mid.
Eliseu Pereira Dos Santos was born to a Cape Verdean mother and a Portuguese father. He plays as a left-back for Benfica.
Fernandes was born in Cape Verde, but has played all of his international career for Switzerland. Currently, he plays as a midfielder for French team Rennes.
Pereira was born in Guinea-Bissau, but moved to Portugal when he was five. He now plays as a midfielder for FC Porto.
Éderzito António Macedo Lopes was born in Guinea-Bissau, but moved at a young age to Portugal. He is now a striker for Lille.
The Basel striker was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon and, even though he has not scored yet, he has left such a good impression that German club Schalke 04 signed him for next season.
Moubandje was born in Douala, Cameroon. He plays for Toulouse, and has been a sub for Switzerland in the Euro.
Djourou was born in Ivory Coast to Ivorian parents, but was adopted by his father’s first wife, a Swiss woman. He plays as a defender for Hamburg.
Reading’s Robson-Kanu scored the winner in Wales historic, first-ever Euro victory, which came against Slovakia. He could have represented his natal England, or his father’s natal Nigeria, but now is expected to continue contributing to the legendary Welsh run into the cup.
Pablo Medina Uribe is a multimedia writer who covers politics, sports and their intersections. He's the editor of Latin America is a Country and Unidos App, and the author of one book, one ebook and one interactive book. You can follow him at @derpoltergeist.