In less than a month, Africa's most prestigious football championship will kick off in Cameroon on January 9th, 2022. Despite the fact that the competition has been postponed, this year's edition looks to be a thriller, with practically all sides boasting great players who are performing well for their clubs. All of Africa's top players who play in European leagues will be present, making the competition unpredictable. The winner will be determined by the team's top players who can turn around and decide matches. In this upcoming AFCON, we've compiled a list of top players to keep an eye on.
1) Mohamed Salah
Mohamed Salah is one of Europe's most prolific strikers, having won both the Champions League and the Premier League with Liverpool. Since joining the Reds from AS Roma in the summer of 2017, the Egyptian has been unstoppable in front of goal. Salah has won the golden boot twice since he joined Liverpool. This season, he is in red-hot form. He has scored 21 goals in all competitions. Salah is expected to lead the Egyptian Pharaohs in the upcoming AFCON.
2) Riyadh Mahrez
Sleek and unplayable at his best, Riyadh Mahrez is one of the best players that have ever represented Algeria. He has already won three Premier League titles; only Didier Drogba has won more as an African player. Mahrez was instrumental in Man City’s premier league win last season. He was also brilliant in helping Man City reach their first ever UEFA Champions League final last season. He was voted PFA Players' Player of the Year, as well as African Player of the Year and BBC African Player of the Year, after helping Leicester City win the league in 2016. He has scored 7 goals in competitions this season.
3) Sadio Mane 3
Since joining Liverpool in 2016, Sadio Mane has established himself as one of the most prolific attackers in world football. With Liverpool, the Senegalese international has won the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup. His goal-scoring prowess has already earned him a golden boot in 2019. Sadio Mane is capable of deciding games, and the defenders of opposing teams will be wary of him. So far this season he has netted nine goals. Keep an eye out for Sadio Mane.
4) Edourd Mendy
Mendy finished the season as a European champion after a fantastic continental season with Chelsea. The Senegalese goalkeeper played a key role in Chelsea’s semi-final win over Real Madrid and became the UCL debutant with the most clean sheets in a single season in the competition’s history. He also performed well in the Premier League after taking over from Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Mendy’s performances in his first season at Chelsea helped him gain a nomination for the Yashin Trophy, which honors the finest goalkeepers in the game, making him only the second Chelsea goalkeeper to be nominated. This season, Mendy had 7 clean sheets to his name.
5) Hakimi, Archraf
Hakimi plays as a right wingback for Paris Saint-Germain and the national team of Morocco. The defender is widely regarded as one of the best right backs in the world right now. He won the Seria A title with Inter Milan last season, and he was one of the outstanding players. Hakimi's dynamism and energy on the right side are huge assets for whatever team he plays for.
6) Ihanacho Kelechi
The Nigerian scored 19 goals in all competitions to help Leicester City win the Emirates FA Cup for the first time. He's continued to be a reliable goal scorer and last season he won the club's Goal of the Season award for a magnificent effort against Crystal Palace. This season, Ihanacho has started the season slowly. He has 1 goal and 2 assists in all competitions.
7) Thomas Partey
Thomas, a big and skilled central midfielder, has had a series of standout performances in the Premier League since joining Arsenal from Atletico Madrid. Thomas is a tenacious ball-winner with the capacity to dominate games. He won the Europa League and European Super Cup with his last club, and also appeared in the 2016 Champions League final. During his five years in the Spanish capital, he established himself as one of the league's best players. He was named Ghana's Player of the Year in both 2018 and 2019, and he has twice represented his country, Ghana, at the Africa Cup of Nations.
8) Franck Kessiè
Kessiè is coming off a fantastic season at AC Milan, where he was an inspirational figure for the Rossoneri as they mounted a credible title bid. He scored 13 goals, a career high, and also showed his leadership qualities in the middle of the field. Following his remarkable performances, the Ivory Coast international was selected for the African Team of the Year in 2020.
9) Wilfred Ndidi
A strong midfielder, Leicester City aren't the same without him. Ndidi won the Emirates FA Cup with Leicester last season. His stint in Leicester is marked by his incredible tackling skills, which saw him consistently rank at the top of the Premier League stats in that category. The Nigerian international has often attracted interest from big clubs.
10) Yves Bissouma
Bissouma has been a revelation for Brighton & Hove Albion this season. A strong and powerful midfielder who can dictate games. Last season, he helped the club avoid relegation with authoritative displays in the middle of the park. Big teams in European leagues are keeping a close eye on his position. The Malian international is one of the best midfielders at the upcoming AFCON finals.
All these stars will be key to their respective teams. In most cases, star players are the ones who step up and inspire their teams to glory.