Niger star Moussa Maazou, who started his working life as a car mechanic, hopes to shine at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and earn a return to Europe.

The Niger skipper now plays his club football in Tunisia with Etoile Sahel after failing to make the grade in France and Russia.

At 24, Maazou has not given up the dream of returning to Europe and this month's Africa Cup could well provide the tall striker the chance to do so.

"Maazou is our best player. He is gifted, fast, daring, energetic and very much loves to play for his country," remarked Niger FA technical director Garba Lawali.

"We still believe he could make it back to Europe. He struggled with discipline the last time he was in Europe, but now he is a lot more mature and knows what is expected of him."

The one-time roadside mechanic started out at army club ASFAN in Niamey before moving to Belgian club Lokeren five years ago.

After a year during which he scored almost a goal every other game in Belgium, he earned a big-money move to top Russian club CSKA Moscow.

However, he was at CSKA only about six months before being shipped on loan to Monaco, and subsequently Bordeaux, in France.

Last year, Maazou surprised many when he agreed a three-year contract with former CAF Champions League winners Etoile.

His contributions for his country are a glowing testament to what he can achieve when focused.

He made his international debut in 2008 and has scored several crucial goals, including match winners against South Africa and Egypt to book Niger's first qualification for the Cup of Nations last year.

At the tournament co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, Niger lost all three games to Gabon, Tunisia and Morocco.

Last October, Niger eliminated Guinea to qualify for their second straight finals, underlining the fact that both Maazou and Niger have come of age since that debut.

Maazou shrugged off a training injury to inspire the Mena (Gazelles) to a 3-1 win over fellow qualifiers Togo in a warm-up game in Niamey.

And now both player and country, helped by the experience of the 2012 tournament, will expect to do much better in South Africa, where they are drawn in the first round against Ghana, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo.