Eto'o and Toure lead African footballer of year race
For anyone interested in the BBC's African Footballer of 2009 award, Friday's Fifa Club World Cup clash between DR Congo's TP Mazembe and South Korea's Pohang Steelers would have made interesting viewing.
The key question being: does Mazembe captain Tresor Mputu merit his place alongside Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Samuel Eto'o and Yaya Toure?
The 24-year-old Congolese striker made the shortlist, compiled by Africa-based sports journalists, after playing the lead role as the Lubumbashi club won their first continental crown since 1968. And though he couldn't equal his 2007 African Champions League tally of nine, which sparked a trial at Arsenal, he did score six - including the crucial away goal in the final's first leg against Nigeria's Heartland.
"I promised the team I wouldn't leave before winning a cup," said Mputu after beating Heartland, and now he can pursue a European career he admirably put on hold.
In Abu Dhabi, as a defensively naive Mazembe lost 2-1, Mputu showed flashes of the close control, footballing brain and goalscoring threat that have brought heavy interest. After teeing-up a glorious chance early on, which Mazembe's main striker fluffed, his best moment came when whistling a 30-yarder inches wide of the top corner.
It didn't get better than that, leaving voters to rely upon his Champions League exploits and display at the African Nations Championship (a new tournament for the continent's local players) which the Congolese and Mputu - crowned the best player - won in style.
Although the shortlist's only Africa-based player has achieved all he can, it's hard to vote against a duo who boasts an unprecedented league, cup and Champions League treble with Barcelona: Eto'o and Toure, with the central midfielder making a pretty compelling case.
Toure, having joined Barca in 2007, the 26-year-old Ivorian has become an essential cog in the Catalan team. He played every game of Barca's European triumph, with his zenith coming in the final. With Dani Alves, Eric Abidal and Rafael Marquez all missing, coach Pep Guardiola opted for Toure to plug the heart of defence and despite facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, you wouldn't have known Barca's centre-back was playing out of position.
"He had an unbelievable season, he's a brilliant player and improving all the time," said Ossie Ardiles, who joined Ruud Gullit and Zambian great Kalusha Bwalya, in voting for Toure.
Internationally, the Ivorian was also key - both on and off the pitch. After 19 fans died at an overcrowded Abidjan stadium for the visit of Malawi, Toure led the players' reaction: "This is something very difficult and I want to send a message of solidarity. We have to go as far as we can in this competition for all the people who died." And they've been as good as their word so far.
Yet Toure's case may be undone by Eto'o, whose treble-winning season hit heights aplenty. The wiry striker plundered 30 goals in 36 league games, another six in Europe, as the Indomitable Lion revealed his mental strength - for Barca had wanted to sell him at the start of the 2008/2009 season.
Eto'o stunned Manchester United after 10 minutes of the 2009 Uefa Champions League final
His most important goal came in Rome, receiving an innocuous-looking pass he twisted-and-turned past Nemanja Vidic before poking home - the defending poor, the execution brilliant. Manchester United never recovered and the Cameroonian basked in becoming only the second man to score in different Champions League finals.
Unceremoniously offloaded to Inter Milan in the summer, Eto'o has started with promise even if Jose Mourinho's game plan is far more functional than Barcelona's. But for such a predatory animal, you wonder whether he will be happy with his slimline diet of chances. Nonetheless, his current strike rate is on course to equal Gabriel Batistuta's first season in Italy.
Eto'o also stood up for Cameroon, especially after being named captain by Paul Le Guen. Previously goalless after two qualifiers, everything then changed - primarily thanks to the new coach. but the skipper showed the way, scoring regularly as the 1990 World Cup quarter-finalists won four must-win matches to reach South Africa.
Eto'o netted the goal that clinched Cameroon's World Cup spot - as did Drogba for the Ivorians. And though the Chelsea man may polarise opinion, he's so talismanic for the Elephants it's hard to think of anyone who embodies their national side more: and six goals in five World Cup qualifiers typified an inspirational captain.
Drogba's 2009 club career started miserably but this was clearly a mental issue for once Guus Hiddink replaced Luiz Felipe Scolari; the powerhouse was reborn as though his magical powers - stolen by Big Phil - had been returned. Drogba's equaliser helped the Dutch master pick up the FA Cup and this season, under his third club manager of the year in Carlo Ancelotti, the Ivorian has been back to his imperious best, scoring at will.
Last ... and perhaps least ... Michael Essien. I'm a big fan but am not convinced he deserves to be either on Fifa's world shortlist nor the BBC's equally prestigious title. Could Seydou Keita, Frederic Kanoute, Mamadou Niang or even Burkina Faso's Moumouni Dagano, who topped Africa's World Cup scoring charts, have been better nominees?
Having missed January and February through injury, Essien's return was - admittedly - highly impressive: hitting the ground running, he scored against Juventus, before his stunning volley was taking Chelsea to Rome until Barcelona's late, late show. The Ghanaian's game is not about goals but his recently improved tally recalls his free-scoring days with Lyon.
Essien was also instrumental for the Black Stars, ensuring they won World Cup qualifiers in Mali and Sudan without Stephen Appiah and Sulley Muntari, and firing the goal that made Ghana the first African country to reach South Africa.
So who's set to follow in the footsteps of Jay-Jay Okocha, El-Hadji Diouf and George Weah? "It can't be Drogba because he didn't play the Champions League final," says Gullit, thinking like a Fifa panelist - yet the BBC's award is decided by fans who may think differently.
For my mind, it will be a straight fight between Eto'o and Toure - and even if I'm wrong, I believe either would be a worthy winner.