<
>

Africans Abroad: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang writes new chapter of African FA Cup history

play
Burley: Arsenal can't afford to let Aubameyang leave (1:25)

Craig Burley believes Arsenal must go all-out to keep Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the Emirates next season. (1:25)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was again Africa's outstanding performer of the weekend, with his double against Arsenal in the FA Cup final against Chelsea on Saturday, while Cristian Kouame ensured his difficult Serie A season ended in style with his first Fiorentina goal.

The English and Italian football seasons drew to a close, but the 2020-21 Scottish Premiership began with a distinctly Nigerian flavour at title hopefuls Rangers.

African players have played an increasingly prominent role in the FA Cup since the early 1950s, when South Africa-born Bill Perry netted the winner as Stanley Matthews-inspired Blackpool defeated Bolton Wanderers 4-3 in the 1953 'Matthews Final' at Wembley.

Albert Johanneson then became the first black African player to play in the final (with Leeds United in 1965), Bruce Grobbelaar became the first African international to win football's oldest club competition (with Liverpool in 1986) and Daniel Amokachi became the first black African to win the tournament (with Everton in 1995).

Didier Drogba, in 2007, became the first African player to score in the final when his 116th-minute winner for Chelsea downed Manchester United, but, until Saturday, no African player had ever captained an FA Cup finalist.

That all changed as Aubameyang led the Gunners out against their London rivals, and then became the first African player to skipper an FA Cup-winning team when he lifted -- and dropped -- the prestigious trophy at the game's conclusion.

It was a match that Auba had dominated -- in his own subtle, yet efficient manner -- converting a 28th-minute penalty after being brought down by Cesar Azpilicueta to cancel out Christian Pulisic's opener, before taking the bout beyond Chelsea with a deft 67th-minute winner.

There was a sumptuous delicateness to the way he bypassed Kurt Zouma with a delicious right-footed touch and then, shifting his balance, dinked the ball over the sprawling Willy Caballero with his left.

His impact against Chelsea, and in the semifinal against Manchester City, will silence those critics who have derided his impact in the big games, and may prompt him to stick it out as part of Mikel Arteta's exciting young team.

"We always had incredible strikers at this football club, and Auba deserves to be named and compared with the big names," the Spanish coach told BBC Sport after the match.

"By winning trophies he will be closer to that, and the longer he stays there as well.

"Hopefully we can have him for more time."

Arteta will be doing more than 'hoping' Aubameyang remains at Arsenal, for whom Nicolas Pepe and Eddie Nketiah were also in action on Saturday.

The Gabon superstar now has 80 goals in all competitions since making his debut for the Gunners in February 2018, and his influence over this young squad must not be understated.

His place among Africa's greatest FA Cup performers is surely secured after his historic turn on Saturday.

As the FA Cup final brought the curtain down on the English league season, so the Italian top flight came to a close with a fascinating final round of matches.

In Ferrara, Kouame brought the curtain down on a remarkable season of ups and downs when he netted in the 89th minute to give Fiorentina a late lead at SPAL, with La Viola adding to their advantage in stoppage time via Erick Pulgar's penalty.

Kouame began the season with Genoa, netting five goals in 11 matches before jetting off in November to the Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, where he represented Ivory Coast.

His tournament was cut short after sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament linjury in the Elephants' 1-0 defeat by South Africa, and he returned to Italy for treatment.

Even though his season had come to a premature end -- or so he thought -- Fiorentina nonetheless moved for the player in the January transfer window, taking him to Tuscany in a deal worth an initial €10 million.

The suspension of football due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the late resumption, afforded Kouame more time to recover from his injury, and he debuted in early July, contributed an assist in the 4-0 victory over Bologna on Wednesday, then broke his duck as SPAL were dispatched on Sunday.

Having waited more than 10 months for a Serie A goal, Kouame took to social media to reflect on a season of immensely contrasting emotions.

"A few hours ago ended a season which was, to say the least, crazy," he wrote on Instagram.

"It started with Genoa, continued with the cursed injury of November at the African Cup, then the January market and the transfer to Fiorentina, then the much desired return to the pitch and finally the joy of scoring a new goal, of rejoicing.

"[There were] strong emotions, of joy and pain, and I want to thank those who shared them with me.

"Now a great and colourful future at Fiorentina awaits me."

While England and Italy turned the page on their domestic campaigns, the Scottish Premiership kicked off its 2020-21 season with a full schedule across the country.

Celtic, favourites again for the title, began the season with a 5-1 rout of Hamilton Academical that Bhoys fans will hope sets the tone for the year ahead.

They'll be encouraged by the performance of Dutch-Ghanaian starlet Jeremie Frimpong, who arrived at the back post to meet Greg Taylor's cross and add Celtic's second just after the half-hour mark.

He was replaced by Anglo-Ivorian Karamoko Dembele late in the contest.

At Pittodrie Stadium, Rangers began their bid to close the gap to the Hoops with a 1-0 victory over Aberdeen, as Steven Gerrard gave a debut to summer arrival Leon Balogun.

The Super Eagles defender endured a rough time of things in English football after arriving from Mainz in 2018.

Balogun made only eight English Premier League appearances for Brighton & Hove Albion -- failing to break the centre-back pairing of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy -- and he was then relegated from the Championship with Wigan Athletic after signing permanently with the Latics in January.

He was composed and athletic on his Rangers debut, although Super Eagles teammate Joe Aribo even more impressive in creating a game-high three goalscoring opportunities, taking two shots on target, and registering a passing accuracy of 97.1%.

Aribo is clearly thriving under the tutelage of Gerrard -- himself a former world-class midfielder -- and he is surely one to watch in the SPL this season.

Elsewhere in the Scottish Premiership, another Nigerian -- 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winner Efe Ambrose -- was in action for Livingston as they fell to Jonathan Obika's St Mirren, while Aaron Tshibola made his third Kilmarnock debut in their 2-1 defeat by Hibernian.