We’re just a few days away from kick-off in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), with host nation Ivory Coast facing Guinea-Bissau at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan in Saturday’s curtain raiser.
The AFCON promises to assemble the continent’s finest players in a fiercely contested tournament, and there would be plenty of talents on show in terms of superstars and emerging prospects.
While every team boasts hidden gems, a few players carry the weight of expectation and possess the talent to light up the tournament with their brilliance.
Ahead of Saturday’s kick-off, we’ve identified five players we think would be worth watching at AFCON 2023.
Mohamed Salah – Egypt
Mohamed Salah is one of several Premier League stars set to headline the tournament, and the Liverpool legend shoulders the hopes of Egypt, who are looking to add a record eighth AFCON title to their trophy-laden cabinet.
The AFCON title has eluded the Pharaohs since 2010, and Salah has been on the losing side in the 2017 and 2021 finals.
The latter was particularly disappointing for the Liverpool talisman. Even though Egypt reached the final, Salah’s paltry two-goal tally contributed little to their emphatic run.
After bagging 18 goals and nine assists in 27 games for Liverpool in the build-up to the AFCON, the 31-year-old would be hoping to carry his remarkable form to Ivory Coast.
Salah’s performance is likely to be decisive for Egypt’s hopes of erasing the memory of defeat at the hands of Senegal in the final of the previous AFCON.
Sadio Mane – Senegal
Sadio Mane undoubtedly stands as the linchpin for his nation.
The impact of his absence from the Senegal squad at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar cannot be overstated, with the reigning AFCON champions failing to get past the round of 16, succumbing to defeat against England.
After a torrid spell at Bayern Munich, Mane has found his feet in the Saudi Pro League, notching 12 goals and six assists in 26 games for Al-Nassr.
Senegal still boasts a handful of key players capable of leaving their mark on the competition, but it’s hard to see the Lions of Teranga defending their crown if Mane isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Victor Osimhen – Nigeria
Victor Osimhen became the hottest property in world football last season when he finished as the leading scorer in Serie A, helping Napoli to their first league title since 1990.
His 2023/24 campaign has been plagued by injuries, but the 25-year-old marksman has still notched seven goals and two assists in 13 Serie A appearances.
AFCON 2023 marks Osimhen’s first chance to shine on the international stage. He would be instrumental to Nigeria’s chances of lifting the AFCON title for the fourth time, and only their second in three decades.
Nigeria are spoiled for attacking options, but the 2023 African Player of the Year will be expected to shoulder the goalscoring burden for the Super Eagles, who are among the favourites to win the competition.
Mohammed Kudus – Ghana
West Ham United forward Mohammed Kudus has been one of the signings of the summer in the Premier League this season.
Since establishing himself in David Moyes’ first team, the ex-Ajax man has taken the Premier League by storm, notching ten goal contributions in 24 games across all competitions for the Hammers.
Kudus caught the eye at the 2022 World Cup, scoring twice even though Ghana failed to qualify for the knockout phase.
The 23-year-old is undoubtedly one to watch in the upcoming AFCON. He could easily be the point of difference for the Black Stars, who are chasing their first continental title in over four decades.
Andre Onana – Cameroon
Andre Onana’s dismissal from Cameroon’s World Cup squad and subsequent retirement appeared to spell the end of this international career – at least while Rigobert Song was in charge of the national team.
His return to the squad in September for the AFCON qualifiers came as a shock, but whether or not he and Song have buried the hatchet, the 27-year-old would be vital to Cameroon’s chances of success.
Onana’s Manchester United career has been a mixed bag. While he boasts some impressive statistics, his early days at Old Trafford have been plagued with several woeful performances.
Onana was in decent form for United in the build-up to the AFCON, keeping two clean sheets in five games across all competitions.
Perhaps the upcoming tournament can serve as a catalyst for the ex-Ajax man to rediscover the outstanding performance levels he achieved during his time at Inter Milan.
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