Sports

AFCON 2021: Players who may dominate tournament

The 2021 edition of the African Cup of Nations takes centre stage in Cameroon in January next year with virtually all the teams boasting of top players

who are performing well for their clubs in Europe. In most cases, the winner of a tournament like this is determined by the activities of players who
have the capacity to decide matches. AJIBADE OLUSESAN highlights some of the top stars who can dominate the next AFCON.

 

Archraf Hakimi (Morocco)
The PSG defender is regarded as arguably the best right
back in the world at the moment following stellar performance
for the French side this term. The Moroccan established
his status as one of the most sought-after players
in the world with his commanding contribution to Inter
Milan’s Serie A triumph last season; despite operating from
the right side of the defence the player hugged the headlines
so many times with his performance for a squad that
could boast of the presence of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro
Martinez and it wasn’t a surprise that the Parisians snapped
him up last summer. He is pivotal in the Morocco side that
has looked unstoppable in the past two years; regarded as
one of the favourites for the title, the Atlas Lions can rely
on Hakimi to lead the way in their charge for the title in
Cameroon.
Thomas Partey (Ghana)
Partey has been at the heart of Arsenal’s resurgence recently
and the midfielder can take that form to the Nations
Cup for his national team of Ghana. The Black Stars were
lacklustre as they exited the 2019 edition of the tournament
early but if they are to make an appreciable impact this
time, they have to rely on the tenacity of Partey. The former
Atletico Madrid midfielder is one of the most experienced
players for Ghana having attended two editions of the tournament
and much is expected of him to use his position to
dominate games for the side. He could lead them to their
fifth title and their first since 1982.
Franck Kessiè (Cote d’Ivoire)
Kessiè is certainly one of the hottest African players in
Europe; after posting incredible performance for AC Milan
last season when he scored 13 goals. The midfielder has followed
that up with another sublime showing as Rossoneri
launch title bid this term. He has scored five goals already
this term to alert big clubs across Europe to his talent. Manchester
United and Tottenham are leading the race to land
him in the summer but the Nations Cup is another platform
he can further showcase his worth and he will be one of the
players the Ivorians will rely on to land them the trophy.
Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria)
He may not have the vision of Sunday Oliseh or the skills
of Muda Lawal, Ndidi’s steely presence and tackling abilities
set him up as one of the best in the holding midfield
role in the world.
A strong midfielder, Leicester City aren’t the same without
him and even the Super Eagles struggle without his
shield for the defenders. He takes up more responsibilities
when he wears the green white jersey of the Super
Eagles; apart from being a holding midfielder, he provides
the points from which the team’s attacking base starts and
match that up with impressible leadership skills.
Although injury has hampered him a bit this season, his
performance in Leicester’s shocking 1-0 defeat of Liverpool
underlines his return to full fitness. He can be the plank
upon which Eguavoen will build his team and he can use
his position to dictate proceedings in Cameroon.
Yves Bissouma (Mali)
Bissouma has caught the eyes with his brilliant display
for Brighton this season in the English Premier League. A
strong and powerful midfielder who can dictate games.
Last season, he helped the club avoid relegation with authoritative
displays in the middle of the park. Big teams in
European leagues are keeping a close eye on his position.
Africans should watch out for this Mali international when
AFCON finals begin.
Edouard Mendy (Senegal)
Is there any goalkeeper better than the Senegalese heading
to this tournament> Certainly no one. He is even regarded
as the best goalminder in the world following his
performance for Chelsea since he joined up two summers
ago. Mendy finished the season as a European champion
and the Senegalese goalkeeper played a key role in Blues’
semi-final win over Real Madrid and became the Champions
League debutant with the most clean sheets in a single
season in the competition’s history. Senegal that finished
runners-up at the last tournament is an overwhelming favourites
this time and Mendy is one of the reasons they are
enjoying that status.
Denis Bouanga (Gabon)
The 27-year-old oftentimes fills in for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
as the lead attacker and has got several goals for
Gabon in the qualifying competition. In France this season,
he has been one of the few bright lights for the struggling St
Étienne and will likely enjoy the break from the travails of
sitting in the Ligue 1 relegation zone. He is one player that
can light up the tournament for Gabon.
Edmond Tapsoba (Burkina Faso)
Bayer Leverkusen have had a good run in the Bundesliga
this term so far and one of the key elements in that run is
Tapsoba. With a market value of €40-million based on his
age and form, the Burkina Faso international has been linked
with a move away from Leverkusen despite spending just
two years at the club. He arrived in Germany from Burkina
Faso via Portugal, where he rose rapidly from the junior
team at Leixões to Vitória de Guimarães and then made a
€4.5-million move to Germany just under two years ago his
meteoric rise has also helped him establish himself as one
of the biggest players in the Burkinabe side. The Stallions
are always regarded as the dark horse in AFCON and the
continent needs to watch out for Tapsoba as he attempts to
lead his side to the trophy.
Riyadh Mahrez (Algeria)
He was the star man as Algeria won the title two years
ago and the Manchester City winger will be the player to
watch as the Desert Foxes look to defend their title this time.
Unplayable at his best, Mahrez has had an incredible career;
after blossoming with Leicester City whom he helped to a
shocking EPL title in 2016 which fetched him PFA Players’
Player of the Year, as well as African Player of the Year and
BBC African Player of the Year awards, Mahrez moved to
Man City where he has cemented his place as one of the
best players in Europe. He is definitely one of the stars that
will light up this tournament and just as he did two years
ago, Mahrez can lead Algeria to a back-to-back title for the
first time.
Baghdad Bounedjah (Algeria)
To some Algerians, Bounedjah is their best player; although
he doesn’t have the flamboyance of Mahrez and he
is not fortunate enough to play for a big European club, the
30-year-old is a different animal when he wears the national
jersey. Mahrez hugged the headlines the most when the
Foxes won AFCON in Egypt but the man that scored the
winning goal against Senegal in the final got his adulation
especially from the home fans. He is in the best form, having
scored seven goals for Algeria in just 10 matches this year.
Only Victor Osimhen of Nigeria (five) scored more goals
than him (four) during the qualifiers among the players that
are heading for Cameroon. He was also also the main man
as Algeria won the Arab Cup earlier this month in Qatar.
Sadio Mane (Senegal)
Mane was disappointed they were pipped to the title
by Algeria two years ago and this will be the right time to
correct the mistakes. He is certainly the focal man for the
Teranga Lions and if they are to win the trophy, Mane has
got to be in his best form. Since joining Liverpool in 2016,
Mane has established himself as one of the most prolific
attackers in world football. With Liverpool, the Senegalese
international has won the Premier League, the UEFA
Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, and the FIFA
Club World Cup. His goal-scoring prowess has already
earned him a golden boot in 2019. Sadio Mane is capable
of deciding games, and the defenders of opposing teams
will be wary of him.
Victor Osimhen (Nigeria)
There were huge doubts about Osimhen’s availability for
AFCON after he suffered an injury during a match for his
Italian side Napoli last month. But the forward dispelled
the fears when he declared himself available for selection
ahead of the tournament and the episode was foreclosed
when caretaker coach Austin Eguaveon named him in his
28-man squad. There are still insinuations Osimhen may not
be fit enough to take part in group stage matches but that
hasn’t been confirmed by the coach but when he’s fully fit,
the former Lille forward can take the tournament by storm.
He is the highest goal scorer in the qualifying series for
this tournament and he has the capacity to emulate his idol
Odion Ighalo who emerged the highest scorer for both the
AFCON 2019 qualifying series and the tournament proper.
Although Nigeria has other decent strikers including
Paul Onuachu and Emmanuel Dennis, Osimhen provides
the main outlet for goals. Eguavoen needs him to be fully
fit as the Eagles chase their fourth AFCON title and their
first since 2013.
Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
It was a forgettable outing for Salah and the Pharaohs at
home two years ago but they now have the opportunity to
redeem themselves. Salah had a dismal showing on a personal
note and he disappointed millions of his fans who had
hoped their national icon would dominate the competition
on home soil. However, it is important to note that Salah’s
level has gone up a notch from that time; he is arguably the
hottest player in the world at the moment having scored 23
goals in all competitions for Liverpool and if he takes that
form to Cameroon, he could become unstoppable.

 

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