A continent’s finest players have descended on Egypt to contest the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Enthralling action is guaranteed throughout the next month from resident superstars, like the Liverpool duo of Mohamed Salah (Egypt) and Sadio Mane (Senegal). Big performance are also expected from Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Lille’s Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast) and Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech (Morocco).
Talent reserves, however, run far deeper than the established names. Sport360 has selected a quartet who are poised to burst into life:
Interested club(s): Liverpool
A special talent is required to draw repeat comparisons with Netherlands great Arjen Robben and torment Barcelona when you are still in your teens.
For Super Eagles flyer Chukwueze, who only turned 20 late last month, this is his reality. The 2015 Under-17 World Cup winner experienced a phenomenal first campaign of regular La Liga action, headlined by a goalscoring display during April’s riotous 4-4 draw with Barca.
An unquenchable desire to charge full throttle at full-backs then shift inside onto his potent left foot – redolent of Robben at his predictable, but devastating, best – earned him five strikes in 26 run-outs.
Chukwueze, unsurprisingly, is raw. His crossing can leave plenty to be desired, as an average of 0.1 attempts per game and just two top-flight assists evidence.
But there is a reason sides of Liverpool’s esteem are linked to him and Gernot Rohr should hand him a spot in the XI against Burundi on Saturday.
Chukwueze, remarkably, revealed to The Cable in 2016 that his unimpressed parents used to burn his boots in an attempt to curb their football-mad child’s obsession. Now, he’s set to light up the AFCON.
Interested club(s): Lyon, Galatasaray, Lazio
There is nothing flashy to Trezeguet’s game; he leaves the rarefied stuff to exalted team-mate Salah on the opposite flank.
Neither does he boast the considerable frame and remorseless eye for goal like his French idol, for whom the nickname – his real moniker is Mahmoud Hassan – was earned as a kid in Kafr El Sheikh.
Laudable work-rate and a mastery of the basics have, instead, propelled him into being a Pharoahs regular under Hector Cuper and Javier Aguirre. These qualities also granted him a spot in the 2018/19 Turkish Super Lig’s Team of the Season after nine goals and 10 assists in 34 run-outs for unfashionable Kasimpasa.
How times have changed after his failed three-year attachment at Belgium powerhouse Anderlecht from 2015-18, that drew zero goals from 11 games in purple. Now, he counts Lyon and Galatasaray among a growing list of suitors.
Club: Club Brugge
Position: Defensive midfielder
Interested club(s): Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Watford, Atalanta
The work horse driving The Warriors’ football renaissance is poised to strengthen his imprint on the AFCON.
Nakamba comes into the tournament with rumours building about a life-changing switch to Premier League returnees Aston Villa. The links come even after a campaign with Brugge disrupted by injury and laced with further pain because of the concession of their Jupiler Pro League crown.
These factors, however, did not stop Nakamba strengthening his reputation. A fearsome average of 4.4 tackles per game during the Champions League’s group stages speaks volumes about a combative role at the base of midfield.
This aggression is not at the expense of accuracy. The ex-Vitesse Arnhem battler averaged 84 per cent pass success in a European pool that contained Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and Monaco.
Interested club(s): Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur
The revelation of last season’s Ligue 1 is now set to be unleashed on the international stage.
Under the aegis of Arsenal and France legend Patrick Vieira, the kid plucked from tiny Paradou AC in his native Algeria – whose Stade Hydra boasts just a 5,000 capacity – last July blossomed. A relentless and unsated adventurous streak saw six goals earned in 29 top-flight fixtures, drawing admiring glances from several of Europe’s grandees.
Half of this number came during an extraordinary display away at Guingamp in April.
It would be incorrect to tag Atal as an unalloyed attacker. Averages of 2.3 tackles and 1.9 interceptions per Ligue 1 game emphasise his well-rounded game.
Work on his crossing, a paltry average of 0.3 per match from him contributed to his zero assists, and a world-class performer will emerge.
Algeria’s right flank of Atal and Mahrez holds promise of a bountiful – and electrifying – stint in Egypt.
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