The African Cup of Nations kicks off on Friday and this year’s edition of the tournament could prove to be one of the best in its history.
There’s a blend of bonafide world-class stars on show and they’re supported by up and coming talents the world’s elite clubs will no doubt be watching.
There are plenty of unknowns in the mix, too, meaning another El Hadji Diouf could come to the attention of the masses.
To get you in the mood for the tournament, we’ve identified five players you’ll want to keep an eye on.
However, stars such as Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah, Nicolas Pépé, Wilfried Zaha, Kalidou Koulibaly and Naby Keïta have been excluded for obvious reasons.
The 22-year-old spent the 2018/19 season on loan with Galatasaray and scored what turned out to be the winner in the title decider in the penultimate game of the season. So to say he’s confident heading into the tournament would be an understatement.
The goal against İstanbul Başakşehir was one of the 14 he netted in the Süper Lig last term, the second-most productive season of his career. Though he’s only netted once for Nigeria in the seven appearances he’s perfect for the Super Eagles; this could be his breakout competition on an international stage.
If Nigeria play to Onyekuru’s strengths he’s going to be a constant threat and could replicate the form he showed during his stint in Turkey.
Another player primed to steal the show is Onyekuru’s teammate, Chukwueze. He burst onto the La Liga scene last season with Villarreal and caught the eye during the 4-4 draw with Barcelona.
He’s already been named as a player Liverpool and Arsenal are keeping close tabs on and an impressive performance at AFCON will likely see that list swell.
The 2.59 dribbles he completes per 90 minutes puts him in the top ten for this stat in La Liga. He beats opponents on a regular basis and creates chaos on the right side of the pitch. Chaos others thrive in.
Though likened to Arjen Robben due to his nature to attack down the flank before cutting inside, Chukwueze is confident on his right foot and this adds another dimension to his game. There’s an unpredictability to his style and this makes him difficult to stop.
The 20-year-old deals in spectacular moments, usually one-on-one with a defender in wide areas. But if he wins more than he loses then the team are likely going to get more opportunities. And this could be the moment he announces himself to the world.
Sarr was signed by Rennes from Metz to replace the departing Ousmane Dembélé. If reports are to believed, he turned down a move to Barcelona in order to stay in France in 2017.
Still only 21, his career perhaps hasn’t hit the heights many had envisaged when he burst onto the scene as a teenager. However, he still finished the 2018/19 campaign with a career-high eight goals in Ligue 1 and he scored a further four in the Europa League.
He’s recently been linked with moves to Arsenal, Leicester and Watford and he is the sort of player with a profile to excel in the Premier League as an aggressive ball-carrier who likes to isolate opponents in wide areas.
All eyes will be on Mané for Senegal and it’s because of this that Sarr could turn out to be a game-changer this summer.
Full-backs used to be an afterthought but now they’re key components of some of the best squads across Europe. Youcef Atal isn’t a mainstream name yet but his 2018/19 season for Nice was nothing short of exceptional.
He’s been tentatively linked with a move to Chelsea but if he manages to shine on the international stage, with the eyes of the world on him, then clubs across Europe will be weighing up a move for the 23-year-old.
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Though primarily a right-back, Atal did play further forward for Nice towards the end of the season and this resulted in him netting a hat-trick against Guingamp.
He finished his debut campaign in Ligue 1 with six goals, however, what really separates him from others is just how confident he is in possession.
Though full-backs have to be like wingers at times, it never comes across as though he’s playing the part. It’s as if he is a winger. If Algeria utilise his skillset properly he could be the wildcard Player of the Tournament.
The Ivory Coast are favourites for a reason. They have a stocked forward line including names such as Pépé, Zaha, Jonathan Kodja and Wilfried Bony.
In midfield, they can call upon Jean Michaël Seri and Franck Kessié. However, the real trump card for them could be Sangaré.
He’s the complete midfielder and has already been linked with moves to AC Milan, Everton and Tottenham. It’s easy to see why.
Sangaré dominates the middle third and has a skillset to adapt to any match situation. He can play passes from deep, can carry the ball through midfield, and he’s got the vision to play passes between the lines.
He’s not just a wrecking ball midfielder, he’s also, to an extent, the orchestrator. Composed on the ball, hungry for it when not in possession. He can be a one-man midfield.