A football tournament will always be an avenue for known names to enhance their legacies; upcoming to step up to become pillars, whilst the unknown become the known. The Africa Cup of Nations Cup (AFCON), scheduled for Egypt from June 21 will not be the exception. Here are 11 players who could enhance their names at the competition.
1. Mohamed Salah  | Egypt
If a fair presidential election was staged in Egypt today, Salah will most probably emerge winner based on burgeoning popularity both on and off the football pitch. Recent winner of the prestigious UEFA Champions League with Liverpool, the left-footed speedster’s accolades continue to grow by the day
It will be a good time for Egypt to win the Nations Cup again, after their last triumph in 2008. Who better to lead them to the Promised Land than Salah, who will forever be seen as a King of Egypt.
2. Sadio Mane  | Senegal
Salah’s Liverpool team-mate, Mane, leads a generation of talented Senegalese players with the 26-year-old the captain of the most expensive side at AFCON 2019. This prodigiously talented and athletic forward will forever write his name in Senegalese folklore if he can instigate the roar that leads to the Teranga Lions winning their first ever AFCON title.
3. Alex Iwobi  | Nigeria
Iwobi has all the attributes to be Nigeria’s game changer but has mostly flattered to deceive. Many Nigerian football fans have almost disenchanted attitude to the prodigiously skilled Arsenal forward, the same way his EPL side feel. Austin Okocha’s nephew is so talented that he is literally expected to provide magic dust with his feet but he has largely underwhelmed. Whether this is due to the wrong usage by the Gernot Rohr remains to be seen. Egypt 2019 almost looks like the last opportunity to win over many Super Eagles’ fans.
4. Nicolas Pepe  | Cote d’Ivoire
The Lille forward caught the headlights in Ligue 1 last season – netting 22 times to drive his club to the second position behind PSG. This achievement rocketed his value above $70 million and he follows the tradition of great Ivorian forwards like Didier Drogba for being direct and deadly. He already boasts four goals in 11 international appearances but he will be adding more gloss to the sheen with a leading role for the Elephants as they chase a third AFCON title.
5. Hakim Ziyech  | Morocco
Another shining star that captured the attention of the football world courtesy of Ajax’s brilliant run in the Champions League was Ziyech. Blessed with a lethal left foot and uncanny forward movement – qualities that have thrust this lithe athlete in the face of every A team in Europe. Morocco have always been underachievers at Africa’s top football tournament but that can all change if Ziyech can spark them into a run for a second ever title.
6. Karl Ekanbi  | Cameroon
Not too popular on the continent, the gangly forward has been a hit with Villarreal in Spain, leading the club away from relegation waters with his 10 goals. The Indomitable Lions were the surprise winners of the 2017 tournament but will now be marked by all their opponents. Stepping into the big shoes of the retired Samuel Eto’o is another big challenge for the forward.
7. Thomas Partey  | Ghana
Ghana’s Black Stars are currently out of sorts but one player who will star for his country in Egypt is Atletico Madrid’s Partey. A midfielder, who can do it all – defend, pass, play-maker, and score is yet to hit the heights with Ghanaian football fans. He now has two weeks to make them change their minds even though no one will doubt his commitment to the cause. Partey could become the fulcrum on which the Stars mount another credible run to end their AFCON drought – one that has persisted since 1982.
8. Mbwana Samatta  | Tanzania
The Taifa Stars return to Africa’s football table led by Samatta after a 39-year absence. A confident Samatta will lead them to Egypt, where they will seek to upturn the formbook. The captain, who leads by example with selfless running is in great form, having led his Belgian side, RC Genk, to a first league title since 2011 with his 23 league goals. The 26-year-old forward is direct and a potent arrow-head for Emmanuel Amuneke’s side.
9. Riyad Mahrez  | Algeria
Despite not featuring as much as he would have wanted, the left-footed ace won a second league title in three seasons with Manchester City but his summer would be a momentous one if he can lead his country to a second AFCON title, 29 years after their last triumph. With 10 goals in 43 appearances for his country since his debut in 2014, the Fennecs will need a much greater return for Mahrez to once again claim to be Algeria’s darling footballer.
10. Naby Keita  | Guinea
If Guinea will stand any chance of going deep at Egypt 2019, a lot would depend on the form and fitness of Naby Keita. It shows his importance that his country demanded his presence while his club, Liverpool, reported that he was injured.
11. Percy Tau  | South Africa
Almost all South African hopes will depend on the form of Tau. The player joined Brighton in the English Premier League but was immediately loaned to Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium’s second division where he shone with 13 goals and 13 assists. It is Tau’s first foray into AFCON but he will make it a memorable one for himself and his country if his goals mean Bafana Bafana make a deep run in the tournament.