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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With the 2019 installment of Africa’s premier international tournament set to kick off in Egypt, here’s a look at some of the very best La Liga representatives across the 24 competing nations.
THOMAS PARTEY (ATLETICO MADRID & GHANA)
As a regular starter at title-challengers Atletico Madrid, Partey is one of the poster boys for this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations. The 25-year-old tends to play a more attacking role for Ghana than he does for Diego Simeone at Atleti, we may be set to see one or two of his trademark long-range strikes as he looks to lead the Black Stars to their first AFCON title of the 21st century.
YOUSSEF EN-NESYRI (CD LEGANES & MORROCO)
En-Nesyri scored his first international goal during the 2017 AFCON and has come a long way since then. Still just 22, the Fez native has turned heads in La Liga this season with Leganes and finished the season as the side’s top scorer. The versatile striker went from strength to strength through the campaign – becoming the first player in club history to score a hat-trick in February – and will be looking to finish his breakout season with some international silverware in Egypt.
MOUSSA WAGUE (FC BARCELONA & SENEGAL)
Just 20 years of age, Moussa Wague has already scored at a World Cup and played for the Barcelona first team. That’s not bad at all! The up-and-coming full-back – of whom those in the Camp Nou offices have very high hopes – has impressed mostly for Barcelona’s reserve side this season and now turns his focus to the AFCON where Senegal are set to face Algeria, Kenya and Tanzania in Group C.
Moussa Wagué (Barcelona B): "When I return in August, I want to train and play with the first team. I will fight until I get it. I have the African Cup and the pre-season tour ahead of me, I will give my all." [fcb] pic.twitter.com/dKTl55pJu9— barcacentre (@barcacentre) June 14, 2019
KENNETH OMERUO (CD LEGANES & NIGERIA)
Leganes registered their highest-ever finish in LaLiga in 2018/19 (13th), conceding just 43 goals along the way – the fifth-best record in the whole league – thanks in no small part to the performances of Nigeria centre-back Kenneth Omeruo. The Abia State native, who has voiced his desire to make his loan switch from Chelsea permanent this summer, is now gunning for his second African Cup of Nations title after winning the 2013 edition while still a teenager.
MOSES SIMON (LEVANTE UD & NIGERIA)
Moses Simon went from strength to strength in his first season in La Liga with Levante, featuring in 14 of his side’s last 16 league games as they steered clear of relegation. The versatile Simon proved his worth to coach Paco Lopez either as a wing-back or traditional winger on both flanks and now goes into his first major tournament with the Super Eagles.
AÏSSA MANDI (REAL BETIS & ALGERIA)
Mandi, who made his international debut in 2014, is set to play in his third AFCON tournament. The Real Betis centre-back will now be hoping it’s third time lucky after rounding off an impressive season in La Liga; not only was the 27-year-old as strong as ever in defence, but he also took his passing game to new heights, finishing the season with a pass completion rate of 92.6%, behind only Barcelona’s Arthur and Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos.
KARL TOKO EKAMBI (VILLARREAL CF & CAMEROON)
Karl Toko Ekambi is set to play a key role in attack as Cameroon look to retain the title they won in 2017. The frontman impressed with 18 goals in his debut season with Villarreal and heads to Egypt brimming with confidence after helping the Yellow Submarine steer clear of relegation in what was a difficult season for the side from Spain’s east coast. Toko Ekambi, still just 26, has even captained his country on a few occasions and has quickly established himself as one of LaLiga’s deadliest strikers.
MUBARAK WAKASO (D. ALAVES & GHANA)
This will be Mubarak Wakaso’s fourth Africa Cup of Nations and the 28-year-old will be determined to make this one to remember after the disappointments of 2013, 2015 and 2017. The Alavés midfielder boasts bags of experience and travels to Egypt after an impressive year in La Liga which saw Alaves in contention for the European spots for months before finishing a creditable 11th.
SAMUEL CHUKWUEZE (VILLARREAL CF & NIGERIA)
The 20-year-old from Umuahia in Abia State has been linked with a number of top clubs across Europe this summer for good reason. Promoted to the Villarreal senior squad midway through the 2018/19 season, Chukwueze wowed fans with his electric dribbling and direct style and picked up five goals as Villarreal secured their La Liga status for another year. He could have represented Nigeria at the Under-20s World Cup this summer but will instead travel with the senior squad to Egypt. A potential secret weapon off the bench for Gernot Rohr.
ALY ABEID (AD ALCORCON & MAURITANIA)
It’s not just La Liga players that’ll be representing Spanish football at this summer’s tournament. There are also a number of talented players from LaLiga 1l2l3, Spanish football’s second tier, and one of them is Aly Abeid. A left-back for AD Alcorcon on loan from Levante this season, the rangy wide man has been called up to the Mauritania national side for the first as they head to their first-ever AFCON.
All La Liga players at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations:
Algeria: Aïssa Mandi (Real Betis)
Angola: Jonás Ramalho (Girona), Jérémie Bela (Albacete)
Cameroon: Wilfrid Kaptoum (Real Betis), Karl Toko Ekambi (Villarreal CF)
DR Congo: Giannelli Imbula (Rayo Vallecano)
Ghana: Mubarak Wakaso (Alavés), Thomas Partey (Atlético Madrid), Kwabena Owusu (CD Leganes)
Guinea: José Kanté (Gimnàstic de Tarragona)
Kenya: Ismael Athuman (Las Palmas)
Mauritania: Aly Abeid (Alcorcón), Moctar Sidi El Hacen (Real Valladolid)
Morocco: Munir Mohand Mohamedi (Málaga), Bono (Girona), Sofiane Boufal (RC Celta), Youssef En-Nesyri (Leganés)
Nigeria: Kenneth Omeruo (Leganés), Moses Simon (Levante), Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal)
Senegal: Moussa Wagué (Barcelona), Alfred N’Diaye (Málaga)
Tanzania: Farid Mussa (CD Tenerife)
The African Cup of Nations 2017 was a historic tournament in many ways.
From great goals and late winners to the noise and drama around it, it was indeed a memorable spectacle with Cameroon emerging as Champions for the fifth time.
It was also a tournament that saw many firsts.
Watch everything you need to know about AFCON 2017, in the above video, courtesy of Copa 90’s YouTube channel.
What will be your abiding memory of this year’s tournament?