Africas greatest football showpiece got underway yesterday with the battle between host Egypt and Zimbabwe, LUKMAN OLOGUNRO brings you some of the players that are tipped to light up the 24- nation tournament.
1 Mohamed Salah – Egypt
He might have not had the best of forms in the club scene, but Mohamed Salah is instrumental to everything Egypt has to offer. Being the host nation, the odds are even tougher and the hopes of the Egyptian populace will be on the shoulders of their captain who would be looking to take his side one step further than last time. The Pharaohs lost to Cameroon in the final of the AFCON 2017, and came up short when it mattered the most.
Despite his dwindling form for the national side, one just cannot deny the massive impact Salah has in any team he plays for.
In an on-and-off season, the 26-year-old has managed to finish as the joint-top scorer alongside his Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane, with 22 goals in the English top-flight and 26 in all competitions with 10 assists to add to his overall contribution. All eyes will be on Salah and whether he can finally replicate his club form on the international stage.
2. Sadio Mane – Senegal
Sadio Mane will be spearheading the Senegalese charge from the front in the AFCON 2019, wearing the captain’s armband. The forward has had a terrific season with Liverpool, finishing as the joint top scorer in the Premier League and having scored 26 goals in all competitions. The 27-year-old will be carrying the hopes of his nation who are pegged to be the dark horses of the competition.
Their matchup against Algeria in the group stages is one of the most highly anticipated fixtures of the tournament.
A flurry of goals can be expected from the attacker
3. Riyad Mahrez – Algeria
The Manchester City winger has had a season of mixed emotions. While he has tasted success with the Citizens lifting four trophies in the 2018-19 season, the former Leicester City player has struggled to secure a starting place in the lineup.
However, irrespective of his domestic performances, Riyad Mahrez wi l l be the centre of attention when he takes the field for his country, Algeria.
The Desert Warriors will rely on their star-man to deliver the goods if they are to avoid repeating their previous disastrous outing in the AFCON 2017, where Algeria were knocked out in the group stage itself. The 28-year-old scored crucial goals in the qualifying stages for the national side and would be looking to continue on that form and will hope to bring the elusive continental honour to the fans back home.
4. Hakim Ziyech – Morocco
One of the stars of the 2018-19 season for AFC Ajax, Hakim Ziyech will be taking the field for Morocco in the tournament.
They are drawn against the likes of Ivory Coast, South Africa and Namibia in the Group D and should most likely secure qualification from the group with ease.
The 26-year-old already has 12 goals for the national side in 23 appearances and ended the season on a high with Ajax, securing the Eredivisie title and the highlight being the semi-final appearance in the UEFA Champions League, scoring 19 goals and assisting another 16 in all competitions.
He is definitely one to watch out since several top European clubs are in the pursuit for his signature.
5. Kalidou Koulibaly – Senegal
Kalidou Koulibaly has emerged as one of the most sought after centre-backs in Europe due to his solid and consistent performances in the heart of the Napoli defence.
The stopper will represent Senegal in the continen- t a l extravaganza and will be looking to inspire his national side to a long run in the competition. Senegal are drawn in the Group C against Algeria, Kenya and Tanzania, and should comfortably secure a spot in the knockout rounds.
The 27-year-old has a towering presence and has the ammunition to be an aerial threat going forward as well. If Senegal are to improve on their quarter-final elimination in the last edition of the tournament, they must rely on Koulibaly to keep the ball away from their net.
6 Wilfred Zaha – Cote d’Ivoire
Winfred Zaha’s quality has never been in doubt and he is one of the players that have the potential to steal the show in Egypt.
Noted for his quick feet and his dribbling skills, the striker will surely cause troubles to many defenders. And having helped Palace to stay afloat in the league, his next mission is to play for a big team and a standout display Egypt will help his course further.
7 Samuel Chukwueze -Nigeria
Nigerian youngster Samuel Chukwueze is eager to launch himself to African football with a bright performance in this year’s Afcon in Egypt. Chukwueze has shown how talented he is by scoring more that average in his first full season in European football by helping Spanish La Liga side Villarreal to preserve their top flight status. He’s very skillful and tough to dispossess on the ball.
He is tipped as one of the players that will explode in Egypt; no wonder Nigeria’s coach Gernot Rohr is banking on his talent to deliver the goals alongside arrowhead striker, Odion Ighalo.
8. Idrissa Gueye – Senegal
Paris Saint-Germain target Idrissa Gueye will represent Senegal at the 2019 AFCON this summer. He played 33 games for Everton in the last season, establishing himself as one of the hardest working midfielders in the Premier League.
Gueye last weekend showed what he is capable of doing when in his best element as he netted the decider in the freindly clash with Nigeria.
9 Odion Ighalo -Nigeria
Odion Ighalo was the top scorer of the AFCON qualifiers, netting seven goals for the Nigeria National Team. The striker was a subject of Barcelona interest during the January transfer window, after an excellent campaign at Changchun Yatai in the Chinese Super League, where he scored 21 goals in 28 games this season.
10 Achraf Hakimi, Morocco
Another talented player, Achraf Hakimi spent the 2018-19 campaign on loan at Borussia Dortmund.
Hakimi has already won the Champions League with Real Madrid in 2018 and played at the 2018 FIFA World Cup for Morocco last summer.