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Euro 2020 - Picking a Dream Team of players with African origins

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The UEFA European Championship may be a celebration of the continent's top footballing nations, but Africa will be heavily represented at the quadrennial tournament.

More than 50 of the 622 players set to compete in the competition have direct African origins and/or were born in Africa.

We pick our African Dream Team of Euro 2020 players, selecting a side that surely would be in the running for the title itself if it were allowed to compete.

Goalkeeper: Yvon Mvogo (Switzerland)

Mvogo will have to content himself with a place on the Switzerland bench this summer, but still he squeezes France's Steve Mandanda out our dream team.

Born in Yaounde, Cameroon, he left his homeland as a six-year-old when his family was invited to migrate by a Swiss national after the departure of the youngster's father.

"I was already playing football with the children in the neighbourhood [in Cameroon]," Mvogo told Illustre in 2011. "We had balls, but we preferred to kick with empty bottles.

"I still remember the joy we felt when we arrived in Switzerland. Everything looked so clean and well organized."

Mvogo, 27, has improved noticeably this season after a few errors heralded his arrival at PSV Eindhoven on loan from RB Leipzig.

He's currently ahead of rival Jonas Omlin in the race to succeed Yann Sommer as Swiss first choice.

Right-back: Nelson Semedo (Portugal)

Portugal have long leaned heavily on players from the country's former African colonies, with the likes of Eusebio and Mario Coluna starring in their first appearance at a major tournament back in 1966.

It's no different this time, with five of the side tracing their origins to Africa -- and two of the quintet born on the continent.

Wolves full-back Semedo -- born in Portugal to Cape Verdean parents -- makes the cut for our Dream Team, and the defender has a point to prove after being overlooked for the 2018 World Cup.

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Centre-back: Presnel Kimpembe (France)

Unlike the other players on this list, Kimpembe did turn out for an African side at youth level, playing for the Democratic Republic of Congo under-20s in 2014.

He could have also played for Haiti via his mother but ultimately opted for France, having rejected the DRC's senior side in 2015, and he won the World Cup with Les Bleus three years ago.

Kimpembe featured just once during that memorable campaign in Russia, but he has since emerged as one of France's starting centre-backs alongside Raphael Varane.

Centre-back: Antonio Rudiger (Germany)

Sneaking into the side ahead of the likes of Kurt Zouma, Jules Kounde and Nathan Ake, Rudiger heads into the Euros in excellent form after a startling turnaround at Chelsea.

Rudiger appeared to be on his way out under Frank Lampard, but he became a lynchpin under fellow German Thomas Tuchel and ended the campaign with a UEFA Champions League winner's medal.

Rudiger's mother, Lily, is from Sierra Leone, while his half-brother Sahr Senesie was born in the West African country but also represented Germany at youth level.

The defender, who met Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio during the latter's state visit to London last year, donated 60,000 facemasks to stall traders in his mother's homeland during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Left-back: David Alaba (Austria)

Newly acquired by Real Madrid, Alaba is the star man in the Austria team and the most successful player from a country that's best footballing days came in the 1930s.

Alaba, 28, could have represented Nigeria -- his father is an Ogere Yoruba prince -- or the Philippines via his mother, but he has been part of the Austrian set-up since 2007.

How Nigeria fans must wish the former Bayern Munich stalwart had represented the Super Eagles and solved a longstanding problem position for the national side.

"I love Nigeria and I would have been happy to play for the country," he said in 2018. "However, I was spotted by Austria at a very early age and I was guided to play for them.

"So it was not that I chose one over the other."

We suspect FIFA's ongoing changes to international representation are unlikely to broaden enough to allow Alaba to switch to the Super Eagles any time soon.

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Midfield: N'Golo Kante (France)

Kante has firmly established himself as one of the finest midfielders of his generation, and he is being mentioned as a genuine contender for the Ballon d'Or after his heroics for Chelsea during the latter stages of the Champions League.

Despite being a World Cup winner with France, the 30-year-old follows in the tradition of great Malian midfielders including the likes of Mahamadou Diarra, Mohammed Sissoko and Seydou Keita.

"In terms of Mali, for a moment they contacted me and I spoke with them," Kante said ahead of his France debut in 2016. "It wasn't an easy decision to make, but I had to make it, and I chose France."

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Midfielder: Youri Tielemans (Belgium)

Tielemans' performances in Belgium's midfield are helping the Red Devils to overcome the loss of two retired Afro-European stars in Mousa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini, although he must battle the likes of Axel Witsel and Leander Dendoncker for a starting spot alongside Kevin De Bruyne.

He was the match-winner as Leicester City clinched the FA Cup final -- defeating Kante's Chelsea -- and has emerged as a key figure in Brendan Rodgers' exciting Foxes side.

Tielemans' judo-teaching mother, who was raised in Congo, was a friend of ex-DRC coach Florent Ibenge, although the tactician never harboured serious hopes that the midfielder would choose the Leopards over Belgium.

Midfielder: Paul Pogba (France)

Another of France's World Cup-winning stars, Pogba is one of the most recognisable players in the world game -- even if his performances in recent years haven't consistently matched his reputation.

Both of the powerhouse's brothers -- Mathias and Florentin -- represent Guinea at senior level, with the latter having featured for the Syli Nationale at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

"I always wanted to play for France," Pogba told Manchester United's Official Podcast in 2020.

"My brothers played for Guinea, but I wanted to play for France.

"They were born in Guinea, and they always said 'we'll take care of Guinea and you take care of France'."

We're not convinced that Guinea fans will be too happy with their advice...

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Forward: Kylian Mbappe (France)

Already a World Cup winner, four-time French champion, three-time Ligue 1 top scorer and two-time French Player of the Year, it's easy to forget that Mbappe is still only 22.

He could hit a half-century of French caps at the Euros, but it could have been so different...

Eligible for Algeria through his mother -- handball player Fayza Lamari -- and Cameroon through his father, Indomitable Lions head coach Toni Conceicao cheekily suggested that Mbappe's dad would have preferred him to represent the Central African nation.

Forward: Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)

Yet another player who could have been part of a sublime DR Congo team only to have opted to represent a European heavyweight, Lukaku is already Belgium's all-time top scorer despite turning 28 only recently.

His father, Roger, was born in Kinshasa and represented Congolese giants AS Vita Club as well as the Zaire national team, while also featuring in European football.

Lukaku Jr. was born while his father was representing now-defunct FC Boom -- outside Antwerp -- and has still referred to himself as the 'Zairian Leopard' despite becoming a record-breaker with Belgium.

Forward: Karim Benzema (France)

Making his return to the international arena for the first time in six years, Benzema is an absolute shoo-in for our African Dream Team, completing the three-man forward line in our 4-3-3 formation.

Before making his France debut in 2007, Benzema was approached by the Algerian federation -- at the time on a recruitment drive of dual-nationality players -- as the nation's officials attempted to tempt him away from France.

Speaking to Radio Monte Carlo in late 2006, however, Benzema silenced the speculation once and for all.

"Algeria is my parents' country and it is in my heart, but in footballing terms I will only play for France," he said.

Substitutes: Steve Mandanda (France), Kurt Zouma (France), Nathan Ake (Netherlands), Bukayo Saka (England), Renato Sanches (Portugal), Memphis Depay (Netherlands), Ousmane Dembele (France).