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5 players to watch at AFCON 2021

Five players to watch at Africa Cup of Nations 2021

Five players to watch at Africa Cup of Nations 2021

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Africa Cup of Nations Qualification live streaming

A total of 672 player will converge on Cameroon for the Africa Cup of Nations, representing 24 teams, all dreaming of lifting the trophy on 6 February.

Some of these players are some of the most easily-recognisable and talented on the planet.

These include Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Riyāḍ Maḥrez, Édouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Franck Kessié, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and many more.

But, there will also be countless younger player, perhaps playing at a lower club-level, hoping to catch the eye and, possibly, make a big money move.

So, here are five young players, you may never have heard of, to watch at this months AFCON.

Edmond Tapsoba: Centre-back – Burkina Faso & Bayer Leverkusen

5 players to watch at AFCON 2021

BREMEN, GERMANY – MAY 08: Edmond Tapsoba of Bayer 04 Leverkusen controls the ball during the Bundesliga match between SV Werder Bremen and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Wohninvest Weserstadion on May 8, 2021 in Bremen, Germany. (Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Meet Edmond Tapsoba: he’s a 22 year old centre-back who is highly rated but could become a household name in the next few seasons.

He moved to Portugal in 2017, starting his senior career with Vitória de Guimarães for whom he played just 32 times at first-team level.

That’s because he was swiftly snapped up by Bayer 04 Leverkusen, costing the German club for up to €25 million.

He’s since made 75 appearances for Die Werkself, scoring three times against Frankfurt, Augsburg and, this campaign, Greuther Fürth.

But, for obvious reasons, it’s been his defensive displays catching the eye.

This season, he’s racked up 15 blocks, 25 interceptions and 26 clearances in the Bundesliga.

None of these are especially outstanding but, in Peter Bosz’s high-pressing, high-energy style, he is the key man at the back.

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At international level, Tapsoba has 16 caps for Burkina Faso since making his debut in 2016.

The Stallions are far from heavyweights in African football but did reach a first-ever AFCON Final in 2013, finishing third four years later.

Last year though, they were eliminated in the second round of World Cup qualifying by Algeria.

From 2026, Africa will be sending nine teams to World Cups, up from five, so perhaps Burkina Faso will make their debut at that tournament with Tapsoba in the team.

For now, he’ll be looking to shine and lead his side on a decent run through this competition.

Ilaix Moriba: Midfielder – Guinea & RB Leipzig

5 players to watch at AFCON 2021

BARCELONA, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 13: Ilaix Moriba of FC Barcelona runs with the ball during the La Liga Santander match between FC Barcelona and Deportivo Alavés at Camp Nou on February 13, 2021 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

A lot has already happened in Ilaix Moriba’s career and he’s only 18 years old.

He joined RCD Espanyol’s academy aged five before joining city-rivals Barcelona just two years later.

During a decade in La Masia he shone, particularly for Barça B, before making his first-team debut in a Copa del Rey tie against Cornellà a year ago.

Four months later, he picked up a winners medal for that competition, coming on as Barcelona hammered Athletic Club in the final.

Moriba can best be described as a classic Barcelona midfield player: diminutive, technically superb and comfortable on the ball.

But, his young career has been overshadowed by off-field issues.

Last summer, he left Barcelona after reportedly turning down a contract extension, demanding a wage that the club, in financial ruin, simply couldn’t afford.

Thus, he was sold to RB Leipzig for up to €22 million but, as of yet, this has not worked out.

Moriba has made just six appearances for Die Roten Bullen, totalling 100 minutes as none of these have been starts.

Also, at international level, he played for Spain and under-17 and under-18 but declared his allegiance for Guinea in 2021.

Thus far, he doesn’t have any international caps but that’ll change, almost certainly in Guinea’s opener against Malawi on 10 January.

Moriba will be hoping to shine at this tournament and then, whenever he does return to Germany, have done enough to force his way into Domenico Tedesco’s plans.

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Ibrahim Sangaré: Midfielder – Côte d’Ivoire & PSV Eindhoven

5 players to watch at AFCON 2021

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – OCTOBER 08: Ibrahim Sangaré of Cote d’Ivoire celebrates his goal during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar, Qualifier match between Malawi and Cote d’Ivoire at Orlando Stadium on October 08, 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Ibrahim Sangaré is the second-oldest of the five players in this list but still has a bright future ahead of him.

He first appeared in European football when he joined Toulouse’s B team in 2016 before swiftly moving up to the first-team.

After making 86 appearances for les Violets, he joined PSV Eindhoven in 2020, playing 66 times for them to date, winning the Johan Cruijff Schaal.

PSV are currently top of the Eredivisie, one point above Ajax, aiming to win their first tile since 2018.

In terms of Sangaré, he is a classic, all-action holding midfielder but, at 6 ft 3 in (191 cms) is a physical presence too.

He ranks highly for progressive carries, tackles and interceptions and is the exact type of player bigger clubs than PSV would love to have.

For now, he’ll be in the orange of Côte d’Ivoire, hoping to lead them to their third AFCON title.

The only problem Sangaré may face at this tournament is the stiff competition in this squad.

Ivory Coast’s best player, Franck Yannick Kessié of A.C. Milan, plays in the same position and is a guaranteed starter.

Sangaré will be hoping to start alongside but Jean Michaël Seri, Habib Maïga and Serey Dié are also vying for starting slots.

Either way, don’t be surprised of Sangaré leaves PSV for a big fee in the next 18 months or so.

Pape Matar Sarr: Midfieler – Senegal & Metz (on loan from Tottenham Hotspur)

5 players to watch at AFCON 2021

Pape Matar Sarr (R) fights for the ball with Nantes’ French midfielder Ludovic Blas during the French L1 football match between FC Nantes and FC Metz at the La Beaujoire Stadium in Nantes, western France on August 15, 2021. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP) (Photo by LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur fans you might not no the name Pape Matar Sarr yet, but you soon will.

Last summer, Spurs paid £14.6 million to secure his services before loaning him straight back to Metz for this season.

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So why have they spent a not an insignificant sum of money on a teenager?

Well, he started his career at the famed Generation Foot academy that has produced players such as Sadio Mané and Ismaïla Sarr.

Sarr has only played 44 times for Metz but has shown himself to be an energetic, box-to-box midfielder who’s also capable of taking a set-piece.

One of Spurs’ many problems at the moment are in midfield with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Oliver Skipp and Harry Winks all struggling to impress.

So, even though he was acquired before Conte’s arrival, he could be a welcome edition to the squad.

For his country, Pape Matar Sarr is lucky in the sense that his team Senegal are amongst Africa’s best.

On the other hand, he might struggle to add to his four senior caps due to some stiff competition.

Cheikhou Kouyaté is usually used as a centre-back but Idrissa Gana Gueye and Nampalys Mendy are above Sarr in the midfield pecking order.

But, with Senegal likely to go far in this tournament, Spurs fans will get plenty of chances to see their future midfielder.

Adama Malouda Traoré: Winger – Mali & FC Sheriff Tiraspol

5 players to watch at AFCON 2021

24 June 2019, Egypt, Suez: Adama Traoré: (R) celebrates scoring his side’s fourth with teammate Moussa Doumbia during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Group E soccer match between Mali and Mauritania at the Suez Sports Stadium. Photo: Oliver Weiken/dpa (Photo by Oliver Weiken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Adama Traoré could be a star of this competition but, before then, it must be clarified which Adama Traoré he is.

There are two players in the Mali squad who share the same name, and neither of them are the Wolves winger who was eligible for Mali but chose Spain.

Confusingly, both Adama Traorés scored in the same game at Africa Cup of Nations 2019, a 4-1 victory over Mauritania.

Both are in the squad again, now known as Adama Noss Traoré and Adama Malouda Traoré to ease the confusion.

Here, the latter is being discussed; he’ll be aiming to add to his 41 international caps and eight goals for his country.

Now 26, Traoré’s career has taken him far and wide.

He’s played for Mazembe in DR Congo, French clubs Metz and Orléans, then Al-Adalah of the Saudi First Division League before joining current club FC Sheriff.

It’s with the champions of Moldova he’s enjoyed relative fame.

In July and August, he helped them qualify for the UEFA Champions League group stages for the very first time, coming through four rounds.

Traoré scored twice in the play-off round first leg win over GNK Dinamo Zagreb, a 3-0 victory.

Both goals were very similar, through-balls in between the full-back and centre-back with Traoré racing though to slot past the goalkeeper.

In the group stages themselves, he scored in the matchday one win over Shakhtar Donetsk and the 3-1 home defeat to Inter.

So, he could certainly play at a higher level than the Divizia Națională but, at 26, this move is going to have to come soon.

Mali are darkhorses to go far at this tournament and, if they are to do so, both Adama Traorés particularly this one, will have to star.


Five players to watch at Africa Cup of Nations 2021 FAQs

When does the Africa Cup of Nations kick off?

9 January: Opening match- Cameroon v Burkina Faso.

The Final is on 6 February.

What is the best way to watch Africa Cup of Nations?

USA: Fubo TV. UK: Sky Sports, BBC iPlayer & Bet365.

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