JOHANNESBURG, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o is in line for an unprecedented fourth successive African Footballer of the Year award after being named as one of five finalists.
The Barcelona striker, who has been sidelined since September with a long term knee injury, faces a tough challenge again from the Chelsea pair of Didier Drogba and Michael Essien, who finished second and third behind him last year.
Eto'o pipped Drogba by just two votes for the 2005 crown in the closest finish in the 35-year history of the award.
The two other finalists, named by the Cairo-based Confederation of African Football, are Egypt international Mohamed Aboutrika and the surprise selection of Nigeria's Nwankwo Kanu.
Eto'o is expected to stand a good chance of winning again on the back of UEFA Champions League success with his Spanish club but is hampered by the fact he did not play at the World Cup finals, unlike Drogba and Essien.
Drogba also captained his Ivory Coast side to the final of the African Nations Cup in February and Essien was a major factor in Ghana getting past the first round of the World Cup in their debut appearance.
Both were also English champions with their club.
Aboutrika was the pivot behind Al Ahli's successful defence of their African Champions League title earlier this month and played for Egypt in their Nations Cup-winning team at the start of the year.
Kanu's selection comes on the back of his recent scoring form at Portsmouth in the English premier league.
The nominations were determined by a poll of members of various standing committees of the Confederation of African Football but the Footballer of the Year will be selected by a poll of the continent's 53 national team coaches.
In recent years there has been a poor response from coaches to the plebiscite with less than a quarter bothering to submit their ballot forms. The CAF has also not released details of the voting, bringing into question the authenticity of the poll.
Eto'o has won the award for the last three years, equaling the feat of Ghana's Abedi Pele between 1991 and 1993.