The Africa Cup of Nations kicks off June 21 in Egypt and runs through July 19 showcasing the continent’s biggest football stars. TINA Magazine takes a look at ten of the top players to watch during the tournament
After their silverware-filled club seasons, played mostly in Europe, Africa’s top footballers will be aiming for continental bragging rights with their national sides in Egypt.
1. Mohamed Salah, 27 – Egypt
Egypt forward Mo Salah tied for top scorer in the Premier League this season with 22 goals for his Champions League-winning Liverpool. Salah will be looking to help the Pharaohs, who have won the Africa Cup of Nations a record seven times, to another title on home soil. After injury marred Salah’s 2018 World Cup bid — leading to a disappointing winless ouster for Egypt at their first World Cup finals in nearly three decades – the prolific Reds star will be keen to deploy the full breadth of his talents in this tournament.
2. Sadio Mané, 27– Senegal
Unstoppable for Liverpool, where he shared top Premier League scoring honours with teammate Salah, winger Sadio Mané’s very presence near the goal is enough to strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenders. Explosive, unpredictable and a deadly finisher, the Champions League winner, who began his career with FC Metz in France’s Ligue 2 before stops in Salzburg and Southampton, will be showcasing his eye for goal with the Lions of Teranga in Egypt.
3. Nicolas Pépé, 24 – Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast’s Nicolas Pépé has dynamite in his boots. The Lille striker hit the mark 22 times this season in Ligue 1, while delivering 11 assists. His power, precision and speed have made him one of the best players in the French top-flight while leading his club, the Ligue 1 runners-up, to a surprise Champions League berth.
4. Riyad Mahrez, 28 – Algeria
Supersonic winger Riyad Mahrez, who won the Premier League with Manchester City this season, will be Algeria’s lethal weapon in this tournament. The Fennecs haven’t won an Africa Cup of Nations since 1990 and are counting on Mahrez’s energy, creativity and crazy dribbles to pierce through opponents’ defensive line.
5. Hakim Ziyech, 26 – Morocco
A revelation during this season’s Champions League for Ajax, Hakim Ziyech will be one of the star attractions of the competition in Egypt. Reportedly on the radar of several big European clubs, the Moroccan attacking midfielder is an essential piece for the Atlas Lions. A tireless and technically gifted players, Ziyech can on his own change the course of a match.
6. Kalidou Koulibaly, 28 – Senegal
Napoli’s rock-solid centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly has proven himself one of Serie A’s toughest defenders and a life insurance policy at the back for Senegal. Virtually insurmountable in a duel, majestic in the air and physically very powerful (at 1m87 and 89kg), Koulibaly is far and away the best active African defender.
7. Naby Keita, 24 – Guinea
Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita does it all for Guinea. Keita missed the end of the Premier League season with an adductor injury, but he is back on form at the right time for his national side at this tournament. Keita’s vision, work ethic and precision passes will be precious assets in Egypt.
8. Wahbi Khazri, 28 – Tunisia
Saint-Etienne’s top offensive force this season, Tunisian striker Wahbi Khazri is also the marquee player for his national side, the so-called Eagles of Carthage. Renowned for his powerful, quick-fire strikes, the Corsica-born Khazri also displays exemplary selflessness on the pitch and a contagious will to win.
9. Cédric Bakambu, 28 – DR Congo
Cédric Bakambu once shone in La Liga for Villarreal; now at Beijing Sinobo Guoan, far from the media spotlight in China, Bakambu has an opportunity to make headlines again in Egypt. Very skilled in front of the goal, the French-born Congolese forward – who won a European Championship with France’s Under-19 squad in 2010 before opting to represent DR Congo at the senior level – will be the Leopards’ top scoring threat at this tournament.
10. André Onana, 23 – Cameroon
Cameroon’s last line of defence, André Onana and his lightning-reflex stops lit up the screen this season for Ajax Amsterdam’s brilliant Champions League semi-finalists. It’s no wonder the young Cameroonian keeper is reportedly coveted by Europe’s top clubs: his talent is reminiscent of his illustrious predecessors Joseph-Antoine Bell and Thomas N’Kono.
11. Onyinye Wilfred Ndidi, 22 – Nigeria
Ndidi is a Nigerian professional footballer who plays for Premier League club Leicester City and the Nigeria national team as a midfielder. On 3 December 2016, Genk agreed a £17 million transfer deal with English champions Leicester City. The deal was confirmed on 5 January 2017. In the English FA Cup game against Derby County on 8 February 2017, Ndidi came on in the first half of extra time and scored his first goal for Leicester through a long-range shot. He definitely didnt do well this last season, but its hard to ignore the he has the talent to improve the Nigerian squad at Afcon