It’s time! The Africa Cup of Nations is just around the corner and what better way to get in the mood than by watching some of the most entertaining players to watch. There are a ton of stars, a lot of emerging talent and, when all is said and done, there will almost certainly be players who win transfers to bigger and bigger clubs.
Superstars are already known of course. You don’t need to explain Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy, Riyad Mahrez, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Achraf Hakimi and the other big names. So let’s have fun instead and watch the players just below the world famous level.
There’s only plenty of room for players (don’t get mad if your favorite isn’t there) so that said, here are fifteen players to watch at CAN this month.
1. Kamaldeen Sulemana, Ghana
The Black Stars are standing! They still have the Ayew brothers, Thomas Partey shows he’s the player Arsenal thought they signed, there’s 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 watch. The Rennes winger at the foot of the fleet keeps you glued to the screen. The 19-year-old has superstar potential.
2. Pope Matar Sarr, Senegal
Is his name familiar to you? It should. The Senegalese midfielder is on loan at Metz and has been linked with a ton of clubs this summer, eventually signing with Tottenham before being loaned directly to Metz. Antonio Conte won’t be the only one to look forward to, the 19-year-old is one of the many talented players on the Senegalese squad.
3. Chidera Ejuke, Nigeria
Nigeria, what a country. They have already known tragedies, sacking their coach, losing players to injuries and crashes. 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. At Napoli’s Osimhen in particular, Nigeria have one of the best offensive options not just in Africa, but around the world. But he is missing due to an injury and COVID. Despite the loss of talent, Nigeria remains one of the favorites to win the tournament. You can choose Wilfred Ndidi, Zaidu Sanusi, Samuel Chukwueze, Kelechi Iheanacho, Joe Aribo or Moses Simon to watch, but Chidera Ejuke is the right one. The fleet-footed winger plays his club ball at CSKA Moscow and has a whole bag of tricks and current interim manager Augustine Eguavoen named abandoned Chidera as a player with enormous potential. This tournament is where he can announce to the world I’m here.
4. Hannibal Mejbri, Tunisia
Another great talent and puzzle but stick with me. Tunisia are another top team in the tournament and whether it’s Omar Rekik from Arsenal, Ellyes Skhiri from Cologne, Wahbi Khazri from Saint-Étienne or Al Arabi Youssef Msakni, there is a lot of talent to watch out for, but it is is Manchester United talent that is chosen. Hannibal showed what it’s all about at the Arab Cup, and although he has yet to fully play for senior United squad, interim manager Ralf Rangnick has praised the young talent.
5. Franck Kessie, Ivory Coast
Côte d’Ivoire is endowed with talent. They are talented playing in some of the best leagues in the world. The Milan midfielder is getting things done and he’s driving Côte d’Ivoire just as he is for the resurgent AC Milan club he is at the heart of.
6. Ibrahim Sangaré, Ivory Coast
Let’s go hipster. If you watch TIFO football you will know Alex Stewart’s love for Ibrahim Sangare. Watch him play and your mind starts to wonder, is that Yaya Touré? Michel Essien? He’s got everything you want from a midfielder, he’s solid defensively, he can spot a pass, he’s resistant to the press and he can dribble. The Ivorian midfielder will more than likely be associated with Franck Kessié in the middle and this tournament he can still prove to the world why he is so appreciated. He is doing very well for PSV, he passes the stats and eye exam.
7. Sébastien Haller, Ivory Coast
Of all the players who can score goals in this tournament, this is Haller to watch. I’ll make it short, Sébastien Haller has TEN Champions League goals for Ajax. They have played six Champions League matches
8. Saïd Benrahma, Algeria
The current CAN champions have a wide range of talents. Everyone knows their offensive talent and it would be easy to put Riyad Mahrez here, right? To the right. But West Ham winger Benrahma takes on real meaning, taking the Premier League by storm and this tournament is where he can shine. If Algeria is to become back-to-back CAN champion and add to their recent FIFA Arab Cup title, the West Ham winger in addition to his other talented players will be key.
9. Ilaix Moriba, Guinea
Now this is where people are going to throw tomatoes at me. A player who probably won’t start, a player who has no selection and is struggling to make appearances at RB Leipzig? Yeah, well, Ilaix is a talent. You can choose Naby Keïta or Amadou Diawara to watch from Guinea, but former Barcelona player Ilaix is a particular talent.
10. Taiwo Awoniyi, Nigeria
Awoniyi is the perfect example of running. He was part of the Nigerian U-17 squad in 2013 which included his current Nigerian teammates Kelechi Iheanacho and Francis Uzoho. He signed for Liverpool in 2015, took on seven loans and eventually ended up with Union Berlin. This season he has scored nine goals in 13 appearances and shows the potential people had by comparing him to legendary Nigerian striker Rashidi Yekini. With Victor Osimhen out of CAN, 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 come forward.
11. André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Cameroon
Hosts will want to show up on their biggest stage and win it all. They have their own talents in Andre Onana, Vincent Aboubakar, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Karl Toko Ekambi and Christian Bassogog but it’s Anguissa that everyone should have their eyes on. He has shown his Premier League talent with Fulham but has taken Serie A by storm this season in the Napoli midfielder. He’s all in action, a real box to box midfielder with a shot on him.
12. Amadou Haidara, Mali
The 23-year-old Malian midfielder plays for RB Leipzig and has been linked with Manchester United and for good reason. He’s incredibly talented. He shares a midfield with a lot of talents in Yves Bissouma, Mohamed Camara, Moussa Djenepo and Diadie Samassékou. Amadou has shown levels in Germany and CAN is the next step for everyone to see his greatness.
13. Edmond Tapsoba, Burkina Faso
The 22-year-old Bayer Leverkusen defender has been linked with big clubs around the world and is a rock at the back. He’s composed on the ball, blessed with rhythm and focus, has an eye for a pass and has shown why he is one of the most sought-after Bundesliga players. Bayer Leverkusen will do their utmost to retain Burkina Faso’s central defender.
14. Ebrima Darboe, Gambia
I don’t know if you get it, but I really LOVE central midfielders and CAN have a ton of talent coming up (yes, yes, we know football isn’t linear). Darboe is a Gambian midfielder who plays for Roma. He showed his talent against Man United, Inter Milan and Lazio, recently appeared against Inter in a game where he had the most contact with the ball. It is highly rated in Rome and one to watch.
15. Ellyes Skhiri, Tunisia
Another midfielder! Yes, I like central midfielders. Ellyes Skhiri has done his job in the Bundesliga this season, Koln will know that with the form he is and the things he has shown on the pitch, great things await him.