Wednesday, January 19, 2022

AFCON 2022: From Hannibal Mejbri to Ellyes Skhiri, 15 players to watch at the Africa Cup of Nations this month

It is time! The Africa Cup of Nations is right around the corner and what better way to get in the mood than by looking at some of the most entertaining players to watch. There are a ton of stars, lots of up and coming talent and, when it’s all said and done, there will almost certainly be players who will earn moves to bigger, more prominent clubs.

The superstars are already known of course. You don’t need Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy, Riyad Mahrez, Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang, Achraf Hakimi and the other big names explained to you. So, let’s have some fun instead and look at players just below the world famous level. 

There is only but so much room for players (do not be upset if your favorite is not here) so with that said, here are fifteen players to watch at AFCON this month

1. Kamaldeen Sulemana, Ghana

The Black Stars are up! They still have the Ayew brothers, Thomas Partey is showing that he is the player Arsenal thought they signed, there is also the talented Mohammed Kudus, the ever present Daniel Amartey, Gideon Mensah and Jose Mourinho’s favorite Felix Afena-Gyan. However, Kamaldeen is the one to keep your eyes on. The fleet footed Rennes winger keeps you glued to the screen. The 19 year old has superstar potential.

2. Pape Matar Sarr, Senegal

Does his name sounds familiar? It should. The Senegalese midfielder is on loan at Metz and was linked to a ton of clubs in the summer, eventually signing with Tottenham before being loaned right back to Metz. Antonio Conte will not be the only one watching with eager eyes, the 19 year old is one of the many talented players in the Senegal squad. 

3. Chidera Ejuke, Nigeria

Nigeria, what a country. They have already had drama, firing their coach, losing players to injury and fracas. Emmanuel Dennis, Victor Osimhen, Leon Balogun and Shehu Abdullahi were released from selection and replaced by Semi Ajayi, Tyronne Ebuehi, Peter Olayinka and Henry Onyekuru. In Napoli’s Osimhen in particular, Nigeria boasts one of the best attacking options not just in Africa, but in the whole world. But he is missing due to injury and COVID. Despite the loss of talent though, Nigeria remain one of the favorites to win the tournament. You could pick Wilfred Ndidi, Zaidu Sanusi, Samuel Chukwueze, Kelechi Iheanacho, Joe Aribo  or Moses Simon to watch but Chidera Ejuke is the one. The fleet footed winger plays his club ball at CSKA Moscow and has an entire bag of tricks and current interim manager Augustine Eguavoen named dropped Chidera as a player with tremendous potential. This tournament is where he can announce to the world, I am here.

4. Hannibal Mejbri, Tunisia

Another talent and head scratcher of a choice but stay with me. Tunisia are another top team in the tournament and whether it’s Arsenal’s Omar Rekik, Koln’s Ellyes Skhiri, Saint-Étienne’s Wahbi Khazri, or Al Arabi Youssef Msakni there’s plenty of talent to keep an eye out for, but it is the Manchester United talent that is picked. Hannibal showed what he is about in the Arab Cup, and while he is yet to fully play for United’s senior team, interim manager Ralf Rangnick has spoken highly of the young talent. 

5. Franck Kessie, Ivory Coast 

Ivory Coast are blessed with talent. They have talent playing in some of the best leagues in the world. The Milan midfielder keeps things ticking and he is the engine of Ivory Coast just as he is for the resurgent AC Milan club he’s at the heart of.

6. Ibrahim Sangaré, Ivory Coast

Let’s go full hipster. If you watch TIFO football, you will know of Alex Stewart’s love for Ibrahim Sangare. Just watch him play and your mind begins to wonder, is this Yaya Toure? Michael Essien? He has everything you want in a midfielder, defensively sound, can pick out a pass, press resistant and he can dribble. The Ivorian midfielder will more than likely be paired with Franck Kessié in the middle and this tournament he can further prove to the world why he is so highly regarded. He has been doing very well for PSV, he passes the stats and eye test.

7. Sebastien Haller, Ivory Coast

Out of all the players who can score goals in this tournament, it is Haller to watch. I am going to keep it short, Sébastien Haller has TEN Champions League goals for Ajax. They’ve played six Champions League matches

8. Saïd Benrahma, Algeria

The current AFCON champions boast a wide range of talent. Everyone knows about their attacking talent and it would be easy to put Riyad Mahrez here, right? Right. But the West Ham winger Benrahma is coming into his own, taking the Premier League by storm and this tournament is where he can shine. If Algeria wants to become back to back AFCON champions and add to their recent FIFA Arab Cup title, the West Ham winger in addition to their other talented players will be key.

9. Ilaix Moriba, Guinea

Now this is where people will throw tomatoes at me. A player who probably won’t start, a player who does not have any caps and is struggling to make appearances at RB Leipizig? Yeah, well, Ilaix is a talent. You could pick either Naby Keïta or Amadou Diawara to watch from Guinea but the former Barcelona player Ilaix is a special talent. 

10. Taiwo Awoniyi, Nigeria

Awoniyi is the perfect example of running your race. He was part of the Nigeria U-17 team in 2013 which featured his current Nigerian teammates Kelechi Iheanacho and Francis Uzoho. He signed for Liverpool in 2015, went on seven loans and finally found himself a home with Union Berlin. This season he has scored nine goals in 13 appearances and is showing the potential that had people comparing him to legendary Nigerian striker Rashidi Yekini. With Victor Osimhen out of AFCON, Emmanuel Dennis not being allowed to play and rumors about Odion Ighalo’s availability, the stage is set for him to be Nigeria’s number 9 and show out.

11. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Cameroon

The hosts will want to show out on their biggest stage and win the whole thing. They have their own talents in Andre Onana, Vincent Aboubakar, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Karl Toko Ekambi, and Christian Bassogog but it is Anguissa who everyone should have their eyes on. He showed his talent in the Premier League with Fulham, but he has taken Serie A by storm this season in Napoli’s midfield. He is all action, a true box to box midfielder with a shot on him.

12. Amadou Haidara, Mali

The 23 year old Mali midfielder plays for RB Leipzig and has been linked to Manchester United and for good reason. He is incredibly talented. He shares a midfield with a bunch of talents in Yves Bissouma, Mohamed Camara, Moussa Djenepo and Diadie Samassékou. Amadou has shown levels in Germany and AFCON is the next stage for everyone to see his greatness. 

13. Edmond Tapsoba, Burkina Faso

The 22 year old Bayer Leverkusen defender has been linked with major clubs throughout the world and is a rock at the back. He is composed on the ball, blessed with pace and concentration, has an eye for a pass and has shown why he is one of the highly sought after Bundesliga players. Bayer Leverkusen will be doing everything they can to hold on Burkina Faso’s center back.

14. Ebrima Darboe, Gambia

Not sure if you are getting it, but I really LOVE central midfielders and AFCON has a ton of talent who are up next (yes, yes, we know football is not linear). Darboe is a Gambian midfielder who plays for Roma. He has shown his stuff against Man United, Inter Milan and Lazio, recently show out against the Inter in a match where he had the joint most touches on the ball. He is highly rated in Rome and one to definitely watch out for.

15. Ellyes Skhiri, Tunisia

Another midfielder! Yes I love central midfielders. Ellyes Skhiri has been doing his thing in the Bundesliga this season, Koln will know with the form he is and the things he has shown on the pitch, big things are ahead of him.

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