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AFCON: TEN stars to watch out for in Ivory Coast

The 34th edition of the event will take place in the Ivory Coast with Senegal looking to defend their title with World Cup stars. Morocco, seven-time winners Egypt and star studded teams including like Nigeria and Cameroon all vying to claim victory.

Plenty of Premier League stars will be in attendance, including the likes of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, West Ham’s Mohammed Kudus and Tottenham’s Pape Matar Sarr.

From emerging young talents looking to showcase their skills on the international stage, to experienced players hoping to add some silverware to their trophy cabinets, there are plenty of excellent talents to look out for during the tournament.

With that in mind, we’ve picked out our top 10 players to keep an eye on during AFCON.

Rayan Ait-Nouri, 22 (Algeria – 4 caps)

It’s easy to forget that the Wolves left-back is just 22 years old having watched his composed performances this season for Gary O’Neil’s side.
He has been one of their standout performers in the Premier League and it’s no wonder why his manager rates him so highly.
This season he’s established himself as a regular face in their starting line-up, having now made 15 starts in the Premier League during the current campaign.
Defensively, his positioning is generally excellent and he also possesses an outstanding technical ability with the ball at his feet.
He also possesses some fantastic footwork and at times this season we’ve watched him use his flair to evade opposition players. He’s certainly a player to watch out for over the next month.

Alhassan Yusuf, 23 (Nigeria – 0 caps)

Wilfred Ndidi has withdrawn from Nigeria’s squad for the Africa Cup of Nations with an injury.
While that will be a blow for Nigeria, with the Leicester City star being a pivotal member of their midfield, he’ll be replaced by exciting prospect Yusuf.
The 23-year-old central midfielder currently plies his trade with Royal Antwerp in the Jupiler Pro League and is an exciting young prospect who likes to pick the ball up from deep and drive his way through defences.
He also boasts an excellent passing ability and can pick out supporting players while under pressure in tight areas.
With Ndidi absent, can he take his opportunity and impress for Nigeria during the tournament?

 

Ousmane Diomande, 20 (Ivory Coast – 4 caps)

Valued at around £69million by his club Sporting Lisbon, the 20-year-old is one of the most exciting young players in the game right now.
He has attracted interest from clubs around the Premier League, with Newcastle recently expressing an interest in the young star, while Man City and Arsenal have also been linked with him in the past.
He arrived at the Portuguese club last January from FC Midtjylland after lengthy transfer negotiations over his price, with Sporting initially offering £4.4m for the 20-year-old centre-back.
And since then he has progressed at a startling rate, going on to win his first cap for Ivory Coast in September, while becoming a key part of Sporting’s squad starting in all but one of their Liga Portugal games this season.

 

Mohamed Salah, 31 (Egypt – 94 caps)

Can the Liverpool forward undo the heartache of Egypt’s defeat by Senegal in the final of the 2021 tournament?
Salah has been firing goals in for Liverpool this season, sitting top of the Premier League’s top scorer’s standings.
He is in great form at the moment and also seems hungrier than ever to win the tournament, having also lost out in the 2017 final. While Liverpool will certainly miss their star man, Egypt will be buoyed by his presence and ability to find the back of the net.

 

Pape Matar Sarr, 21 (Senegal – 14 caps)

Another Premier League star who’s attracting plenty of attention right now. After struggling to break into Tottenham’s starting XI last season, the central midfielder has been given his chance under new manager Ange Postecoglou and hasn’t disappointed.
He’s risen to become a regular starter for Spurs, having made 18 appearances in the Premier League starting in 16 of those matches.
His performances in the holding role for Spurs, utilising his strength and power to win the ball back off defenders, but also dictate play from deep positions, make him one of the standout young midfielders in the top flight so far this season
While Postecoglou’s side, who have been plagued with injuries this season, will not want him to pick up a knock over the next month, it will be very exciting to see what he can do on the international stage.

Karim Konate, 19 (Ivory Coast – 11 caps)

One of the latest young talents to emerge from the ranks at RB Salzburg, Konate is an exciting prospect that many clubs will be keeping an eye on in the years to come.
The centre forward has notably scored 10 goals in 25 appearances across all competitions for the the Austrian club this season and will be looking to continue his rich vein in form in front of goal over the next month.
He is an elite finisher and with top strikers now a hard commodity to come by, there’s no doubt there will be some interest in him should he find the back of the net at the tournament.
It’s also worth noting that at the mere age of 19, he has impressively already won 11 caps and scored two goals for the national team’s senior side.

 

Achraf Hakimi, 25 (Morocco – 64 Caps)

With his contract with Paris Saint-Germain set to expire in 2026, there is a chance several clubs could soon be eyeing up a potential move for the right-back.
Yet, Morocco are one of the favourites to win the tournament, with Hakimi helping lead his side to finish in fourth place at the 2022 World Cup, after a brilliant tournament that saw the Atlas Lions defeat France, Spain, Portugal, Canada and Belgium.
The defender was a pivotal figure througout that campaign but will be looking to help his side undo the heartache of their defeat by France in the semi-final.

Sofyan Amrabat, 27 (Morocco – 49 caps)

Amrabat is one player who can use this tournament to regather some confidence.
There was much excitement around his loan move to Manchester United at the start of the season, but the Fiorentina midfielder has underwhelmed for the Red Devils.
While he has previously been a key figure for his parent club, the 27-year-old has struggled to break into Erik ten Hag’s starting line-up this season, making seven starts in 10 Premier League appearances.
He impressed at the World Cup with Morocco, so perhaps a few big performances can help him regain his form.

Calvin Bassey, 24 (Nigeria – 10 caps)

Perhaps one of the bargains of the 2023 summer transfer window, Calvin Bassey has been excellent for Fulham since joining in an £18.2m deal from Ajax. While he had to fight to break into Marco Silva’s starting XI this season, Bassey has started in all of Fulham’s previous 11 matches in the Premier League while also helping them advance to the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup.The centre-back is a marshall in defence and possesses excellent ball skills, great strength and an astute understanding of the game. He’ll come into a Nigeria side that is packed out with other stars including his team-mate Alex Iwobi and star striker Victor Osimhen. They will certainly be one of the teams to watch at the tournament.

 

Serhou Guirassy, 27 (Guinea – 12 caps)

One of the stars of the Bundesliga so far this season, Guirassy got his 2023-24 campaign off to a flying start, scoring 14 goals in his first eight Bundesliga matches this season – a sensational return.
While his excellent form has somewhat waned, he remains one of the most lethal strikers in Europe and is being linked with several Premier League teams.
West Ham are one club in the running for the Stuttgart forward, who has a release clause of around £15m.
A good campaign with Guinea could see him reignite his form in the Bundesliga and Hammers fans should certainly keep a close eye on him.

 

With Report Courtesy: Daily Mail Sports

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