UEFA Champions League final: Africans in the final

UEFA Champions League final: Africans in the final
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The UEFA Champions League final 2024 throws up a curious question as the season comes to an exciting end.

The UEFA Champions League is by far the most watched club tournament in the world, attracting eyeballs from all over the globe, including Africa, but what has been the impact of African players on the Champions League?

Many great African players have played in the UEFA Champions League final, with some winning and others finishing as losing finalists.

In this piece, we go back 40 years of the tournament to recount how many African players have featured in the UEFA Champions League final.

Africans who featured in the UEFA Champions League final

Bruce Grobbelaar (Zimbabwe) – 1984, 1985

UEFA Champions League final - Bruce Grobbelaar
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Zimbabwean goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar was in goal for Liverpool in the 1984 UEFA Champions League final and did well for the Reds as they drew 1-1 with Roma before winning 4-2 on penalties.

He didn’t save any penalty but did enough to put the Roma penalty takers off guard as they blazed two over the bar.

Grobbelaar was also in goal for Liverpool the following year, but was not as lucky as they lost 1-0 to Italian side Juventus.

Rabah Madjer (Algeria) – 1987

UEFA Champions League final - Rabah Madjer
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Porto won its first European trophy when they beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the 1987 UEFA Champions League final.

They had to come from behind to do so, with Rabah Madjer scoring the equalizer in the 77th minute with a cheeky backheel before Jaury sealed the win three minutes later.

Hajry Redouane (Morocco) – 1988

Benfica took on PSV in the 1988 UEFA Champions League final, with Moroccan midfielder Hajry Redouane on the bench.

He came on with eight minutes of extra time left to play but couldn’t change the tide. However, Redouane scored his penalty kick, but they still lost after a 0-0 draw at full time.

Vata Matanu Garcia (Angola) – 1990

Vata came on for Benfica in the 76th minute, but they still lost 0-1 to AC Milan.

Abedi Pele (Ghana) – 1991, 1993

UEFA Champions League final - Abedi Pele
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Abedi Pele helped Marseille reach the UEFA Champions League final in 1991 but was unfortunate to be on the losing side as they lost 5-3 on penalties to Red Star Belgrade after a 0-0 draw.

In 1993, Abedi was more fortunate as he led Marseille to a 1-0 win over AC Milan.

Finidi George (Nigeria), Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria) – 1995, 1996

UEFA Champions League final - Nwankwo Kanu, Louis van Gaal and Finidi George
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Finidi George played in his first UEFA Champions League final in 1995. He led Ajax to the final, where the Dutch side won its fourth title. Finidi played all 90 minutes.

The former Sharks winger also led the team to the final in 1996 but were unfortunate 4-2 penalty losers after a 1-1 draw.

Nwankwo Kanu started the 1995 final on the bench, but Louis van Gaal brought him on in the 53rd minute, and he helped the Dutch side score the only goal.

Papilo played the whole game in the 1996 final but did not participate in the shootout as Ajax lost to Juventus.

Samuel Osei Kuffour (Ghana) – 1999

Samuel Kuffour played all 90 minutes for Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League final. He was close to winning the title—however, Manchester United two late goals to deny them the trophy.

Kuffour was back in 2001 and helped the Bavarians beat Valencia 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

Geremi Njitap (Cameroon) – 2000

When Real Madrid took on Valencia in the UEFA Champions League final in 2000, Cameroonian midfielder Geremi Njitap was the only African on both sides. Geremi was an unused sub as Los Merengues won 3-0.

Tony Sylva (Senegal), Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo) – 2004

Monaco shocked the world when they beat Real Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna to reach the final, but Tony Sylva and Emmanuel Adebayor were unused subs as they lost 3-0 to Porto.

Benni McCarthy (South Africa) – 2004

Benni McCarthy had a fantastic season with Porto as they reached the UEFA Champions League final, but he was relegated to the bench and came on in the 78th minute with the game already wrapped up.

Djimi Traore (Mali) – 2005

When Liverpool pulled a stunning comeback against AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League final 2005, Djimi Traore played the whole game but did not take part in the shootout.

Samuel Eto (Cameroon) – 2006, 2009, 2010

UEFA Champions League final - Samuel Eto and Patrice Evra
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Samuel Eto is the first African to play in the UEFA Champions League final three times (twice with Barcelona and once with Inter Milan).

He is the only African who has played in more than one final to win it all. He scored in the 2-1 win over Arsenal in 2006 and the 2-0 victory over Manchester United in 2009. He led Inter Milan to a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in 2010.

Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast), Emmanuel Eboue (Ivory Coast) – 2006

Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue were close to making history with Arsenal as they led Barcelona 1-0 in the final at the Stade de France, but goals from Samuel Eto and Juliano Beletti dashed their hopes.

Michael Essien (Ghana), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), John Mikel Obi (Nigeria) – 2008, 2012

UEFA Champions League final - Didier Drogba
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When Cristiano Ronaldo gave Manchester United the lead against Chelsea in the 2008 final, many thought it was over, but Michael Essien scored a powerful equalizer, but it was not enough as they lost 6-5 on penalties.

Chelsea finished the game with ten men as Didier Drogba received his marching orders four minutes from time, while Mikel Obi was an unused sub.

The trio were all winners in 2012, but Essien was an unused sub, and Drogba almost threw the game away after giving away a penalty in extra time as they beat Bayern Munich 4-3 on penalties.

Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast) – 2009

Yaya Toure had a fantastic season with Barcelona in 2009, but he played in an unnatural position for Los Blaugrana.

The midfielder was mostly used as a defender by Pep Guardiola as they beat Manchester United 2-0 in the final.

Seydou Keita (Mali) – 2010

The Malian was not a regular for Barcelona but always put in a decent shift. He came on in the 86th minute as Barcelona beat Manchester United 3-1.

Salomon Kalou (Ivory Coast) – 2012

The Ivorian was part of the Chelsea squad that came from behind to draw Bayern Munich 1-1 in the final and then win 4-3 on penalties.

Thomas Partey (Ghana) -2016

Thomas Partey saw only four minutes of action as he came on in the 116th minute of a 1-1 draw against Real Madrid but lost 5-4 on penalties.

Mehdi Benatia (Morocco), Kwadwo Asamoah (Ghana) – 2017

Benatia and Asamoah could do little to stem the tide as their club Juventus, lost 4-1 to Real Madrid in the final in 2017. They were both unused subs.

Sadio Mane (Senegal), Mohamed Salah (Egypt) – 2018, 2019, 2022

Sadio Mane (Senegal)Sadio Mane
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Mo Salah and Sadio Mane propelled Liverpool to the pinnacle of European football by leading the Reds to the UEFA Champions League final three times.

Unfortunately, they lost two of them to Real Madrid (2018 – 3-1 and 2022 – 1-0), but in 2019 they beat Tottenham 2-0 with Salah scoring a second-minute penalty.

Joel Matip (Cameroon) – 2019, 2022

The Cameroonian defender featured in Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat of Tottenham in the  2019 UEFA Champions League final but was an unused sub when the Reds lost to Real Madrid in 2022.

Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast), Victor Wanyama (Kenya) – 2022

When Tottenham reached their first and only UEFA Champions League final, losing 2-0 to Liverpool, Serge Aurier was an unused sub, while his fellow African Victor Wanyama suffered the same fate. However, Wanyama became the first Kenyan to reach a final.

Idrissa Gueye (Senegal), Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (Cameroon) – 2020

In 2020, Paris Saint Germain reached its first UEFA Champions League final but were losing finalists, as they fell 0-1 to Bayern Munich.

Idrissa Gueye was an unused sub, while Choupo-Moting came on in the 80th minute.

Hakim Ziyech (Morocco) – 2021

Hakim Ziyech was an unused sub when Chelsea won their second Champions League trophy. They beat Manchester City 1-0.

Riyad Mahrez (Algeria) – 2021, 2023

UEFA Champions League final - Riyad Mahrez
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Riyad Mahrez had two years of pain in the Champions League. In 2021, Manchester City lost to Chelsea in the final and Real Madrid in the 2022 semi-final, but Mahrez finally landed his hands on the trophy in 2023 when Manchester City beat Inter Milan 1-0.

Naby Keita (Guinea) – 2022

Naby Keita was an unused sub when Liverpool lost 0-1 to Real Madrid in the 2022 final.

Andre Onana (Cameroon) – 2023

The Cameroonian goalkeeper played all 90 minutes as Inter Milan lost by a solitary goal to Manchester City in 2023.

Name Country Position Club Year Result
Bruce Grobbelaar Zimbabwe Goalkeeper Liverpool 1984 Won 4-2 pens
Bruce Grobbelaar Zimbabwe Goalkeeper Liverpool 1985 Lost 0-1
Rabah Madjer Algeria Forward Porto 1987 Won 2-1
Hajry Redouane Morocco Midfielder Benfica 1988 Lost 6-5 pens
Vata Matanu Garcia Angola Forward Benfica 1990 Lost 0-1
Abedi Pele Ghana Forward Marseille 1991 Lost 5-3 pens
Abedi Pele Ghana Forward Marseille 1993 Won 1-0
Finidi George Nigeria Winger Ajax 1995 Won 1-0
Finidi George Nigeria Winger Ajax 1996 Lost 4-2 pens
Nwankwo Kanu Nigeria Forward Ajax 1995 Won 1-0
Nwankwo Kanu Nigeria Forward Ajax 1996 Lost 4-2 pens
Samuel Osei Kuffour Ghana Defender Bayern Munich 1999 Lost 2-1
Samuel Osei Kuffour Ghana Defender Bayern Munich 2001 Won 5-4 pens
Geremi Njitap Cameroon Midfielder Real Madrid 2000 Won 3-0
Tony Sylva Senegal Goalkeeper Monaco 2004 Lost 3-0
Emmanuel Adebayor Togo Forward Monaco 2004 Lost 3-0
Benni McCarthy South Africa Forward Monaco 2004 Won 3-0
Djimi Traore Mali Left Back Liverpool 2005 Won 3-2 pens
Samuel Eto Cameroon Forward Barcelona 2006 Won 2-1
Samuel Eto Cameroon Forward Barcelona 2009 Won 2-0
Samuel Eto Cameroon Forward Inter Milan 2010 Won 2-0
Kolo Toure Ivory Coast Defender Arsenal 2006 Lost 2-1
Emmanuel Eboue Ivory Coast Right Back Arsenal 2006 Lost 2-1
Michael Essien Ghana Midfielder Chelsea 2008 Lost 6-5 pens
Michael Essien Ghana Midfielder Chelsea 2012 Won 4-3 pens
Didier Drogba Ivory Coast Forward Chelsea 2008 Lost 6-5 pens
Didier Drogba Ivory Coast Forward Chelsea 2012 Won 4-3 pens
Mikel Obi Nigeria Midfielder Chelsea 2008 Lost 6-5 pens
Mikel Obi Nigeria Midfielder Chelsea 2012 Won 4-3 pens
Seydou Keita Mali Midfielder Barcelona 2010 Won 3-1
Salomon Kalou Ivory Coast Forward Chelsea 2012 Won 4-3 pens
Thomas Partey Ghana Midfielder Atletico Madrid 2016 Lost 5-4 pens
Mehdi Benatia Morocco Defender Juventus 2017 Lost 4-1
Kwadwo Asamoah Ghana Midfielder Juventus 2017 Lost 4-1
Mohamed Salah Egypt Forward Liverpool 2018 Lost 3-1
Mohamed Salah Egypt Forward Liverpool 2019 Won 2-0
Mohamed Salah Egypt Forward Liverpool 2022 Lost 0-1
Sadio Mane Senegal Forward Liverpool 2018 Lost 3-1
Sadio Mane Senegal Forward Liverpool 2019 Won 2-0
Sadio Mane Senegal Forward Liverpool 2022 Lost 0-1
Joel Matip Cameroon Defender Liverpool 2019 Won 2-0
Joel Matip Cameroon Defender Liverpool 2022 Lost 0-1
Serge Aurier Ivory Coast Right Back Tottenham 2019 Lost 0-2
Victor Wanyama Kenya Midfielder Tottenham 2019 Lost 0-2
Idrissa Gueye Senegal Midfielder PSG 2020 Lost 0-1
Eric Choupo-Moting Cameroon Forward PSG 2020 Lost 0-1
Hakim Ziyech Morocco Midfielder Chelsea 2021 Won 1-0
Riyad Mahrez Algeria Winger Manchester City 2021 Lost 0-1
Riyad Mahrez Algeria Winger Manchester City 2023 Won 1-0
Naby Keita Guinea Midfielder Liverpool 2022 Lost 0-1
Andre Onana Cameroon Goalkeeper Inter Milan 2023 Lost 0-1

This article was most recently revised and updated 2 months ago

Chooka Izuegbuna is a Sports Journalist with 20 years of experience in print, TV and Radio. He has worked with some of the top media houses in Nigeria, including NTA Network, Channels TV, TVC, Silverbird TV and MITV. Chooka broke his sports reporting teeth with The Game Football Weekly in 2003 as a cartoonist and reporter. Chooka has a passion for football and has been a fan of Enugu Rangers (over 30 years) and Real Madrid (Since 1996).