The much anticipated 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is three days away with kick off scheduled for Friday, June 21, but just how well do you know about the potential stars of the tournament?
The most coveted continental title for African countries would this year be hosted by record winners Egypt, who have won it on seven occasions, including the last time they hosted in 2006.
The tournament would see 24 teams for the first time ever battling it out after the expansion from 16 teams. With the cream of the crop of players taking part in the competition, there are a host of incredible individual players who would be donning their national colours with the objective of taking glory to their respective home countries.
Who is the highest-rated player on the continent? Find out all you need to know below with some world-class talents at display that will attract attention from every corner of the continent.
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 left-footed defender is arguably the best African defender at the moment, with Manchester United interested in the 27-year old player.
The stopper would represent Senegal in the continental extravaganza and would be looking to inspire his national side to a long run in the competition.
He made his debut for the Senegal in 2015 and has played 32 games since then.
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.
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. He netted seven goals in his 27 league appearances for Manchester City.
However, irrespective of his domestic performances, Riyad Mahrez would be the centre of attention when he takes the field for his country, Algeria.
He has already scored three goals at the African Cup of Nations, one in 2015 vs Senegal and two in 2017 against Zimbabwe.
The Desert Warriors would 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 stages.
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.
Thomas Partey – Ghana
The towering Ghanaian midfielder, measuring 1.85m, enjoyed an incredible season with club side Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Primeira Division campaign, where he helped his side to a second position in the league, ahead of rivals Real Madrid. Partey played over 40 matches in all competitions and scored three goals with six assists in the process.
His displays did not go unnoticed, with reports now linking him with some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs such as Manchester United and Barcelona.
Partey is the biggest La Liga player at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and he would look to carry that form through to this year’s tournament in Egypt.
The midfielder also boasts of an impressive scoring run for the Black Stars – something, which would definitely delight Coach Kwesi Appiah.
In 17 international games, Partey has scored seven times, including an outstanding hat-trick during a World Cup qualifier against Congo.
The Ghanaian’s role as a defensive midfielder means he does not often get the necessary credit for his exploits, but there is a reason why he was named among CAF’s 10 best players in Africa.
And as we build up to the 2019 AFCON, Partey is expected to be one of the shinning stars of the tournament and lead his country to end a 37-year trophy drought.
Hakim Ziyech - Morocco
Hakim Ziyech was one of the star performers of the 2018-19 season for AFC Ajax, winning a domestic double and reaching the Champions League semi-finals. He was named the AFC Ajax Player of the Year for a second successive year, noting 21 goals and 24 assists for the club across all competitions.
Ziyech would 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.
The 26-year-old already has 12 goals for the national side in 23 appearances.
He is definitely one to watch out since several top European clubs are in the pursuit for his signature. The Moroccan will be the crucial cog in this tournament
Sadio Mane - Senegal
Sadio Mane would 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 and assisted five times in all competitions.
Twenty-two of his goals came in the Premier League, as the Senegalese shared the Premier League Golden Boot award with fellow Africans, Mohamed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The 27-year-old would 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. Mane would sadly miss the opening group game for his side through suspension.
Considering his current red-hot form, he could possibly and easily end as the best player of the tournament.
Mohamed Salah - Egypt
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.
He might have not had the best of forms in the club scene, but Mohamed Salah without a shred of doubt is instrumental to everything Egypt has to offer in the tournament.
The Egyptian King lifted the Champions League with the Liverpool, scoring in the final against Tottenham at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
Despite his dwindling form for the national side, one cannot deny the massive impact Salah has in any team he plays for. In a topsy-turvy season, the 26-year-old has managed to finish as the joint-top scorer alongside his Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane, 22 goals in the English top-flight and 26 in all competitions with 11 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.
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