Top five players to watch out for at the AFCON 2023 qualifiers
The African Cup of Nations 2023 will take place in January to February 2024, in the Ivory Coast.
The latest round of AFCON qualifiers beckons, as we’ve reached the final International break before the major European footballing leagues end their club seasons in May. The third round of qualifying matches leading up to the 34th African Cup of Nations next year in Ivory Coast has beckoned upon us, as forty-eight (48) nations from the world’s second-largest continent compete against each other, amongst whom twenty-four (24) shall eventually make it to the actual tournament scheduled to be played in the west African nation of Ivory Coast.
Some of the biggest names in world football have their heritage from Africa, including the likes of Samuel Eto’o, George Weah, Didier Drogba, etc. That heritage is being richly preserved and enhanced with the current crop of African stars who’ve already become legends and upcoming stars who’re making their marks in club football across Europe. Here below are the few names to look out for in the next couple of weeks as we look forward to the return of competitive International football amongst the African nations, after the World Cup in Qatar, in 2022.
5. Sadio Mane, Senegal
The Bayern Munich winger has been undergoing a very difficult season at his new club Bayern Munich after injuring himself, just before the Qatar World Cup in 2022. His leg injury kept him out of Senegal’s World Cup bid, which they exited in the round of 16 in a 3-0 loss to England. However, the defending African Cup of Nations winner from 2021, has returned from injury recently after missing nearly three months of footballing action for Bayern. Sadio Mane is the second top scorer in the AFCON qualifying campaign with four goals behind Nigerian sniper Victor Osimhen and will be looking to ensure his country goes into the tournament in the best possible form and team chemistry, to defend their AFCON title next year in January, and will also look to find his goal-scoring touch as Senegal takes on Mozambique twice on 25th and 28th March respectively.
4. Mohammed Kudus, Ghana
The Ghanaian forward has had an impressive club season in the Dutch Eredivisie top flight with Ajax, having already scored 11 goals & 2 assists in 25 games. He’s been in very good form scoring four and assisting twice in the last five league matches for the Dutch Champions. His performance in the World Cup for Ghana was also remarkable as he shone on the World Cup stage, especially scoring twice against South Korea in the group stage including the winner, in Ghana’s only victory in World Cup.
His consistent form has also been there in the AFCON stage, as four-time AFCON winners Ghana are top of their group with four points, and looking to seal their places into the next stage of the competition by qualifying. Kudus has also become one of the top transfer targets for his former manager and current Manchester United boss Eric Ten Hag, who’ll look to acquire his services in the summer window. He was close to joining Premier League club Everton last summer, but the deal fell through due to being blocked by his current employers Ajax. However, with his full focus on winning trophies at Ajax this season, his current attention will be to help his national team reach their objectives, and add to his two goals in the current qualifying matches against Angola twice on 23rd & 27th March respectively.
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3. Dango Outtara, Burkina Faso
The Bournemouth winger has recently risen to prominence since his match-winning assist on 11th March against Liverpool, which helped his new club side pull off an improbable 1-0 win for his relegation-battling Cherries side. The Burkina Faso man is also helping his country reach the AFCON finals next year, where they’re top of the group with six (6) points and three goals to his name in the qualifying campaign so far (3rd highest top scorer, behind Mane (4) & Osimhen (5). He’s risen from the youth ranks in his country club football, before being eventually offered a chance to play top-flight football with Bournemouth’s sister club in France, Ligue 1’s Lorient, at the start of the 2020-21 season, aged just 18.
The left-footed pacy winger ran the likes of Van Dijk and Robertson ragged during an eye-catching performance in the Premier League and has been the brightest spark for his club side since joining them for £20m, in the January transfer window this year. The winger is yet to score since joining his new club but has three assists to his name already. Having already scored 6 goals in 18 Ligue 1 appearances for Lorient before his move, his country will rely on him to add to his three goals, as they look to qualify for the main stage of the AFCON next year, taking on Togo home & away on 25th & 28th March respectively.
2. Mohamed Salah, Egypt
The Egyptian King’s form has been questioned at times this year, unlike in previous seasons, but still has a remarkable 24 goals and 12 assists in all competitions this season. He’s also become Liverpool’s all-time top scorer in the Premier League after netting his 129th goal for the club with a brace and a 7-0 win over bitter rivals Manchester United. He’s also finished with 8 goals (2nd highest) in the Champions League, where Liverpool exited last week in defeat to Real Madrid in the UCL Round of 16.
The all-time Egyptian goal-scorer (47 goals) will look to add to his tally when Egypt face Malawi twice, home and away on the 25th & 28th of March respectively. The Liverpool striker has finished runners-up twice in the AFCON with his country, in the last final against Senegal in 2021, as well as in the 2017 final to Cameroon, and will look to be third time lucky and win a major honour with Egypt.
1. Victor Osimhen, Nigeria
Serie A’s leading marksman and Nigeria striker Osimhen is the most talked about striker in Europe at the moment. His Serie A leading tally of 21 goals has helped Napoli surge a title challenge and establish a 21-point lead at the top of the table. He’s scored three goals in two games recently in the Champions League knock-out round against Frankfurt& helping Napoli progress into the last 8, with his deadly efficiency in front of goal has bringing fear amongst the opposing defences across Europe.
The Nigeria international prolific goal-scoring has now set the new record for most goals by an African player in a top-flight campaign, eclipsing Cameroon great Samuel Eto’o’s 2010 record 2010, after his brace in Napoli’s 0-4 win against Torino, this weekend, and a couple of goals away from George Weah record of highest scoring African in Seria A history.
The number of clubs interested in acquiring his services includes Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Bayern Munich, all making him their priority transfer target. Such has been the impact that he’s being valued at €100 minimum to prize him away from Naples in the upcoming summer transfer window. He’s also currently the leading scorer in the AFCON 2023 qualifiers, with five goals for the Super Eagles, and will look to take his side to glory next year in the AFCON main rounds, and should feature against Guinea-Bissau in the double header on the 24th & 27th March respectively.
The telecast for the AFCON 2023 qualifiers are below:
India – CAF TV on YouTube
UK – Eurosport
USA – beIN Sports
Nigeria – SuperSport
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