Hakimi to Shine? Top Players to Watch Out for at AFCON

The top players in Africa will converge in Cameroon for the 33rd edition of the biennial Africa Cup of Nations and we expect to see some of the best stars across Europe representing their nations.

AFCON has long been a hotbed for several talented gems and the postponed 2021 edition will once again feature those playing right at the top of their game.

With that in mind, we are evaluating the top players to look out for at AFCON 2021.

Achraf Hakimi

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Arguably the best full-back in modern-day football will grace Cameroon 2021 as one of the most high-profile stars playing for one of the tournament favourites. Hakimi is one of the key performers in PSG’s word-class squad, having joined the Parisiens for €60 million in 2021.

The 23-year-old is becoming something of a veteran in the Morocco squad. He enters his third international tournament and second continental showpiece with the Atlas Lions. The versatile full-back has registered five goals and six assists in 41 international caps. His pace and dynamism in forward areas will surely make a difference for Vahid Halilhodžić’s men.

Should Morocco finally shake off their underachievers’ tag in Cameroon, there is no doubt that Hakimi will have had a crucial say and his progress is worth documenting right from the opening game against Ghana.

Sadio Mané

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The 29-year-old arrives at his third AFCON tournament looking to finally pull his team over the line.

Mané made his debut for the Senegal national team in 2012 and no one can match his 25 goals and 18 assists in 80 caps. His talismanic efforts will be the key to his side’s quest of reaching a consecutive AFCON Final and the winger is one to keep a close eye on.

The Teranga Lions are the top ranked side in Africa according to FIFA and their former African Footballer of the Year will lead the charge for Aliou Cissé’s side who have never won the AFCON.

Having made it onto the AFCON 2019 Team of the Tournament, Mané will once again be one of the top dogs as he aims to lead the West African country to glory.

Kamaldeen Sulemana

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The teenage winger has lit up the Ligue 1 with some electrifying performances in his debut campaign having joined for a record outgoing transfer fee from the Danish League.

The 19-year-old Rennes attacker plays with flair, speed and unique dribbling qualities which are sure to excite fans in Cameroon. Sulemana will bring a refreshing vibe to the Black Stars squad who are desperate for improved fortunes.

Ghana aim to win the AFCON again after forty years and Sulemana is expected to be influential to their campaign. Should we see anything close to his amazing displays at club level, there is no doubt that the youngster will catch a few eyebrows.

Sulemana debuted for Ghana in 2020 and having become a key player in the side, AFCON 2021 might prove his breakthrough in international football.

Sebastién Haller

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More than a few eyes will be on the Ivory Coast striker who is the top scorer in the UEFA Champions League. He joined Cristiano Ronaldo as the only player to score in every group game in a single campaign.

Haller is the second player to score four goals on his UCL debut after Marco Van Basten as well as the fastest to reach ten goals in the history of the competition. The 27-year-old has developed the reputation of a goal-scoring specialist in cup competitions and that could heighten on the international stage with the Ivory Coast.

The key change in his game from a forgettable spell at West Ham was Haller being allowed to poach opportunities to score rather than being used as an archetypal target man. This could see the lanky center-forward become a popular goal-scoring outlet at AFCON where he is surrounded by fantastic service from equally talented forwards.

Riyad Mahrez

Algeria’s talisman will lead their charge as they attempt to defend their title in Cameroon. Having scored 26 goals and assisted 34 in 70 appearances for the Desert Foxes since May 2014, Mahrez is expected to shine for the tournament favorites.

The Algeria captain’s superb free-kick against Nigeria in the 2019 AFCON Semi-Final was voted 2019 goal of the year, and similar efforts could well see Djamel Belmadi’s men over the line in 2022.

The former African Footballer of the Year is one to keep an eye on for the sheer silkiness of his dribbling and goals. If he can successfully help Algeria capture their third AFCON title, then Mahrez woud have no doubt delivered another catalogue of AFCON 2021 memories.

Mohamed Salah

The Egyptian King is the most high-profile participant at AFCON 2021 and undoubtedly one of the best players in the world at the moment.

Salah leads the Premier League goal-scoring chart with Liverpool and will be looking to bring that form to the Pharaohs where he faces immaculate pressure on his shoulders to deliver the continental crown.

The 29-year-old was part of the team that lost the 2017 final to Cameroon as well as dropping out in the last 16 to South Africa as hosts in 2019. Thus, Salah will be desperate to lead his nation to a record-extending eight AFCON titles.

The Egypt captain has 43 goals and 24 assists from 73 caps and the world would be watching as he attempts to lead Carlos Queiroz’s side to glory.

Edouard Mendy

The Senegal shot-stopper was one of the best goalkeepers in the world in 2021 and would look to enhance that reputation with the Teranga Lions in Cameroon.

Mendy equaled the record for most clean sheets in a UEFA Champions League season with nine, as he kept in goal to help Chelsea win their second European Cup. He was awarded the UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year and will be desperate to continue a silverware-laden period for club and country.

The 29-year-old is a physically imposing net-minder with incredible agility and superb communication skills. His winning mentality garnered at Chelsea will make a difference for the 2019 runners-up who are backed to go all the way in Cameroon.

Mendy is expected to keep his consistent form and there is little doubt he will have a big say in Senegal’s potential success at this tournament.