Money and surprises - African football in 2011

No single event dominated the football year for Africa but three words sum up 2011 for me - money, controversy and surprises.

In some cases, those three topics could apply to the same subjects.

Take the case of Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon - who has endured a more than usually turbulent 12 months.

First the striker made a surprise move to Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala from the Italian top flight club Inter Milan for a huge - and disputed - salary.

The controversy came on the international stage, when the striker... went on strike.

Eto'o, as national team captain, led his players when they refused to travel to a friendly match in Algeria in a row over late payment of appearance fees.

His repayment from the Cameroon federation Fecafoot was a 15 match international ban - leading to speculation Eto'o bringing his international career to an end, although he says he is prepared to carry on.

Libya through in style

Sport was hardly the most important thing on the minds of most Libyans during 2011 - but the extended conflict in the country certainly had an impact on football.

Caf was forced to take the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2011 U20 African championship away from Libya, in a cute swap deal with South Africa .

But on the pitch the national team secured a remarkable berth at the 2012 finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon - as the team navigated the tricky territory of moving from representing the Gaddafi-era government to playing under the flag of the new authorities .

Botswana, Niger - the Nations Cup?

So was it a year full of surprises? You bet. Here's a question - can you name the top 20 African footballing countries?

Botswana and Niger are not on that list - they are in 95th and 97th places respectively in the Fifa rankings - but they both made it to the Cup of Nations.

And while they celebrated, some rather bigger footballing names were contemplating failure - Cameroon, Nigeria and Egypt should all be thinking about winning the Nations Cup; instead they will be watching Equatorial Guinea and Gabon 2012 on the television.

South Africa players

Whoops! South Africa players celebrating thinking they had qualified for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations

Seven times African champions Egypt would be more than happy to blame the wave of political revolution in their region, but Cameroon and Nigeria are faced with enormous soul searching to explain their absence.

Have the mighty fallen or the start of a minnows revolution?

One thing is absolutely certain - South Africa should have invested in a calculator going in to the final round of qualifying matches for the CAN.

Their players celebrated thinking that the draw with Sierra Leone was enough to take them through - but they were left embarrassed when they realised that Niger had gone through on Caf's long-standing head-to-head rule.

Finally, a 'coup de chapeau' to Gabon for qualifying for the 2012 Olympics for the first time by winning the inaugural African Under-23 championship in Morocco.

It was, in a year of surprises, a genuine shock - and also a good omen, perhaps, as they prepare to co-host the Nations Cup next month.