The 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will begin tomorrow in Cameroon, having been delayed one year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nodoubt, AFCON has always thrown up memorable football stories and performances with some of Africa and by extension, world’s finest players.

Indeed, Afrca can boast of names like Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, Senegal’s Sadio Mane, Algerian captain Riyad Mahrez, Senegalese goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and Ivorian Franck Kessie, as these players need no introduction.

But outside of these established players,  Saturday SunSport’s PAUL EREWUBA takes a look at 10 of the continent’s ‘brightest’ stars to watch, as the tourney begins tomorrow, with agency reports.

 

Umar Sadiq – Forward, 24, Nigeria/Almeria

Injuries and withdrawals have conspired to hand Spain-based Umar Sadiq a unique opportunity.

The Almeria striker has more than earned it, however. Sadiq has been in good form for Almeria for close to two seasons now as the Andalusian club chases promotion to La Liga.

Watching him play is exciting. A volatile personality, combined with his height and physical build, makes him difficult to predict. 

Herve Koffi – Goalkeeper, 25, Burkina Faso/Charleroi

Koffi was one of the breakout stars of Burkina Faso’s run to the semi-finals back in 2017. Relatively little-known at the time, the second-generation international announced himself with an outstanding performance in the quarterfinal win over Tunisia.

By the end of the tournament, he transferred from ASEC to Lille. But things did not quite take off for him in France. After a couple of loan moves, he found stability in Belgium with Charleroi and remains a very strong goalkeeper who can help Burkina Faso live up to their “dark horses” tag.

Odilon Kossounou – Defender, 21, Ivory Coast/Bayer Leverkusen

In the summer of 2021, Bayer Leverkusen paid a Belgian record fee to sign Kossounou from Club Brugge.

The fee was eye-catching, especially for a centre-back barely out of his teens.

His awareness, strength – bely his slim frame – and skill with the ball is noteworthy.

Achraf Hakimi – Defender, 23, Morocco/PSG

Hakimi, arguably, is one of the best right-back in Africa and the world.

Clubs like Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan and PSG seek for his signature, and this tells how good he is. 

His ability to carry an entire flank is key to Morocco’s attacking play.

Abdou Diallo – Defender, 25, Senegal/PSG

Diallo made his international debut in March last year but has been almost ever-present, partnering Kalidou Koulibaly, who fighting fitness currently.

On a good day, Diallo is a classy operator with a slick left foot and brilliant defensive instincts.

If all go well, Senegal’s defence will be impregnable.

Ilias Chair – Midfielder, 24, Morocco/QPR

Chair is a lively attacking midfielder with a repertoire of dribbles, drags and rolls. He is the sort of player who is easy to fall in love with.

Chair made his international debut midway through 2021 but has since established himself.

His performance during Qatar 2022 qualifying late last year will no doubt stand him in good stead when the starting lineup is selected for AFCON.

Yves Bissouma – Midfielder, 25, Mali/Brighton and Hove Albion

At Brighton, Bissouma is a mobile, energetic screen in front of the defence.

However, for Mali, he plays a more expansive, overtly creative role as a box-to-box midfielder capable of dribbling into advanced areas and shooting powerfully from distance.

The Malian Eagles is another under-the-radar team to whom most should pay attention, and Bissouma is a star to behold.

Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa – Midfielder, 26, Cameroon/Napoli

Zambo Anguissa keeps the ball extremely well and is solid in defence. Both of these functions will no doubt see Cameroon through.

The Napoli man, for so long has been under appreciated but he has blossomed since joining Serie A side, Napoli last summer.

He has also flourished internationally, providing intensity and physicality in midfield.

While Cameroon has a number of options in central midfield, the smooth gliding of Zambo Anguissa is set to stand out.

Musa Barrow – Forward, 23, The Gambia/Bologna

The Gambia is making its first appearance at AFCON and would want to make an impression.

Barrow is part of a growing Gambian football diaspora in Italy, and has been in tremendous form throughout the first half of the season.

He can play all across the front three, but what makes the 23-year-old so watchable is his willingness to try the unexpected.

Mohamed Bayo – Forward, 23, Guinea/Clermont

Newly promoted Clermont is punching above its weight in Ligue 1 and much of that is owed to the form of Bayo, who is already attracting interest from the Premier League.

A powerful centre-forward who excels at link-up play, is a strong finisher.

A striker of his profile, who does more than simply hang on the shoulder of defenders waiting for service, could make a massive difference for Guinea and carry them far in the competition.

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