Top 5 players to watch out at AFCON 2019
Written by: Waseem Zaidi
The 32nd edition of the tournament commences on 21 June 2019.
The most coveted continental title for African countries, the African Cup of Nations, is scheduled to begin from 21 June 2019 and will be hosted by Egypt this time around. Organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the biennial showpiece features some of the top talents that African football has to offer.
The tournament will see 24 teams for the first time ever battling it out after the expansion from 16 teams. With the cream of the crop taking part in the competition, there are a host of incredible individual players who will be donning their national colours with the objective of bringing glory back home to their country.
Here are the top five players to watch out for in the upcoming AFCON 2019, and there are some world-class talents at display that will attract attention from every corner of the globe.
5. Kalidou Koulibaly - Senegal
Kalidou Koulibaly has emerged as one of the most sought after centre-backs in Europe due to his solid and consistent performances in the heart of the Napoli defence. The stopper will represent Senegal in the continental extravaganza and will be looking to inspire his national side to a long run in the competition.
The defender is a pivot for the Naples team
Senegal are drawn in the Group C against Algeria, Kenya and Tanzania, and should comfortably secure a spot in the knockout rounds. The 27-year-old has a towering presence and has the ammunition to be an aerial threat going forward as well. If Senegal are to improve on their quarter-final elimination in the last edition of the tournament, they must rely on Koulibaly to keep the ball away from their net.
4. Hakim Ziyech - Morocco
One of the stars of the 2018-19 season for AFC Ajax, Hakim Ziyech will be taking the field for Morocco in the tournament. They are drawn against the likes of Ivory Coast, South Africa and Namibia in the Group D and should most likely secure qualification from the group with ease.
The 26-year-old already has 12 goals for the national side in 23 appearances and ended the season on a high with Ajax, securing the Eredivisie title and the highlight being the semi-final appearance in the UEFA Champions League, scoring 19 goals and assisting another 16 in all competitions. He is definitely one to watch out since several top European clubs are in the pursuit for his signature.
The Moroccan will be the crucial cog in this tournament
3. Riyad Mahrez - Algeria
The Manchester City winger has had a season of mixed emotions. While he has tasted success with the Cityzens lifting four trophies in the 2018-19 season, the former Leicester City player has struggled to secure a starting place in the lineup. However, irrespective of his domestic performances, Riyad Mahrez will be the centre of attention when he takes the field for his country, Algeria.
The Desert Warriors will rely on their star-man to deliver the goods if they are to avoid repeating their previous disastrous outing in the AFCON 2017, where Algeria were knocked out in the group stage itself.
The 28-year-old scored crucial goals in the qualifying stages for the national side and would be looking to continue on that form and will hope to bring the elusive continental honour to the fans back home.
2. Sadio Mane - Senegal
Sadio Mane will be spearheading the Senegalese charge from the front in the AFCON 2019, wearing the captain’s armband. The forward has had a terrific season with Liverpool, finishing as the joint top scorer in the Premier League and having scored 26 goals in all competitions.
The 27-year-old will be carrying the hopes of his nation who are pegged to be the dark horses of the competition. Their matchup against Algeria in the group stages is one of the most highly anticipated fixtures of the tournament. A flurry of goals can be expected from the attacker.
Considering the current form, is he the best player of the tournament?
1. Mohamed Salah - Egypt
He might have not had the best of forms in the club scene, but Mohamed Salah is instrumental to everything Egypt has to offer. Being the host nation, the odds are even tougher and the hopes of the Egyptian populace will be on the shoulders of their captain who would be looking to take his side one step further than last time. The Pharaohs lost to Cameroon in the final of the AFCON 2017, and came up short when it mattered the most.
Despite his dwindling form for the national side, one just cannot deny the massive impact Salah has in any team he plays for. In an on-and-off season, the 26-year-old has managed to finish as the joint-top scorer alongside his Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane, with 22 goals in the English top-flight and 26 in all competitions with 10 assists to add to his overall contribution. All eyes will be on Salah and whether he can finally replicate his club form on the international stage.
Published: Wed Jun 12, 2019 11:52 AM IST