These players stood out in the 33rd edition of Africa’s continental championship.
It all came down to a penalty shootout, after 28 days of sheer footballing display, impeccable stories and emotionally overwhelming moments. Senegal under Aliou Cissé – who missed a penalty in the finale shootout against Cameroon – clinched their first international title. Carlos Queiroz’s Egypt, after two penalty shootout wins in AFCON 2021, fell short this time around.
While Comoros’ heroic run was the major takeaway after Senegal’s win, Vincent Aboubakar’s high scoring was equally impressive in Cameroon’s third-place finish. The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2021 had some upsets in its bag too. Defending champions Algeria lost their title, in addition to their 35-match winning streak.
From a tournament that delivered, there were a handful of individual players who were noticeably the best performers. Out of those, here are eleven that stood out, compiled in Khel Now’s Team of the Tournament for AFCON 2021:
Goalkeeper – Mohamed Abou Gabal (Egypt)
Zamalek’s shot-stopper Mohamed Abou Gabal had an AFCON 2021 to cherish for a long time. Whilst the Pharaohs failed to clinch their eighth continental victory, the goalkeeper pulled off incredible saves between the sticks.
It might be surprising to many that Abou-Gabal had only made three appearances for the national team in the last decade. First choice custodian Mohamed El Shenawy’s hamstring injury brought the 33-year-old into the spotlight. Safe to say, he lived it to the fullest. Despite ending up on the losing side, Abou-Gabal’s resilience, which included a penalty save against the flairy Senegalese side earned him the Man of the Match award in the finale.
Right-Back – Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)
Achraf Hakimi lived up to his hype. The Paris Saint-Germain right-back was a lively asset from the right flank, scoring two goals in a short tournament for Morocco. One of those goals came off a brilliant free-kick, which caught the eyes of many.
More than the goals, Hakimi’s directness and driving runs were what made him a lethal force. Despite losing out to Egypt in the quarter-finals, he registered an assist.
Centre-Back – Edmond Tapsoba (Burkina Faso)
Although Burkina Faso lost a three-goal lead against Cameroon in the third-place playoff, their defence was solid throughout Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2021. In particular, Bayer Leverkusen’s Edmond Tapsoba was a rigid force.
From last-ditch tackles to perfectly executed duels, the 23-year-old impressed big time for the national team. It won’t be a surprise if bigger European sides come calling for him soon.
Centre-Back – Mohamed Abdelmonem (Egypt)
Losing Ahmed Hegazi and Akram Tawfik could have been a defensive catastrophe for Carols Queiroz and Co, if it was not for Mohamed Abdelmonem. The 23-year-old Al Ahly defender was composed at the back and showed the capability to withstand extreme pressure. The games against Sudan and Senegal were instances where Egypt were tested the most. Abdelmonem took to those occasions in the best way possible.
Not only did the youngster defend with maturity, the winning goal against Sudan came off his head. In addition to being an energetic ball winner, the centre-back showed glimmers of ball-playing ability as well.
Left-Back – Saliou Ciss (Senegal)
Saliou Ciss did the exact same thing for Senegal that Leonardo Spinazzola did for Italy during the Euros. The 32-year-old was dynamic, yet consistent coming from the left.
It was on Ciss’ prowess that Senegal dominated Egypt in the finals and created clear opportunities from the flank. Comfortable going forward, Ciss’ ability to work and track back in time was also an asset for Senegal.
Central Midfielder – Mohamed Elneny (Egypt)
Although Mohamed Elneny slotted in as a defensive midfielder for Egypt following Tawfik’s injury, he excelled in attributes that central midfielders regularly display. The Arsenal midfielder was instrumental in maintaining ball flow in Egypt’s midfield and at times, winning it back.
Elneny looked to be significantly more direct than the other players around him and had more progressive passes. Him starting as a defensive midfielder, yet having the ability to create chances was what brought midfield advantage to Queiroz’s side.
Defensive Midfielder – Ibrahim Sangare (Ivory Coast)
Ibrahim Sangare is the only player in our team to have been knocked out before the quarter-finals. Still, him making it to this list is on the basis of his impressive performances on the occasions that he could show up.
A tall midfielder by physique, Sangare’s ability to protect the ball and pass it forward in tight spaces was a joy to watch. In addition, the 24-year-old PSV Eindhoven midfielder showed unrivalled prowess in the air, ultimately making him a mix of offensive and defensive qualities.
Central Midfielder – Ibrahim Blati Toure (Burkina Faso)
Burkina Faso’s impressive run to the semi-finals was backed by the resilience that started from their midfield. Although a conventional central midfielder by attributes, Ibrahim Blati Toure had a significant contribution in constructing that identity. The main form of defence for Burkina Faso came in the form of ball retention and Toure was sublime in that aspect.
Although his only goal came in a losing cause against Senegal in the semis, the 27-year-old enjoyed an impressive tournament overall.
Right Winger – Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
Mohamed Salah’s AFCON 2021 did not end on a good note. However, individually, the Liverpool superstar was the best player in his position. Egypt utilized his capability to draw and beat players to create spaces in the middle. That strategy got the best out of both Egypt and Salah throughout the tournament.
Starting out slow, Salah’s two goals came at crucial points for the Pharaoh. With his dribbling, pace and accuracy in front of goal, there was hardly any other player who looked more than the man himself.
Center-Forward – Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon)
Eight goals in seven games. Saying Vincent Aboubakar had an impressive AFCON would be an understatement. The 30-year-old enjoyed an incredible goalscoring spree, that steered his side just a step away from the final.
Although Cameroon were beaten on penalties, the third-place match is where everything was on display yet again. Facing a three-goal defect, the Al-Nassr striker scored a brace to secure a comeback and an impressive finish to the tournament.
Left Winger – Sadio Mane (Senegal)
The triumphant campaign ended on a perfect tone, for both Sadio Mane and the Senegal national team. For the former, after winning almost everything with Liverpool, this one came as a special triumph. Mane scored three goals in six matches en route to the final, where a penalty miss overshadowed his performance.
Regardless, the Player of the Tournament continued tormenting the Egyptian defence. Prior to the AFCON 2021 finale, it was Mane’s goal against Burkina Faso that secured a comfortable entrance to the showpiece for his side.