A distinct African flavour will permeate through the group phase of the Uefa Champions League, which gets underway on Tuesday.
A total of 32 teams kick off in midweek chasing the prize of the world’s greatest club competition with billions of viewers watching around the world, including on SuperSport.
Among the best African talent will be right there amid the action as Manchester City look to defend their crown against the best that Europe has to offer.
There will be heady competition from the likes of English rivals Arsenal and Manchester United, Spain’s record winners Real Madrid and Barcelona, Paris St Germain, Bayern Munich and last season’s runners-up Inter Milan.
There then are new threats like Napoli, who won the Scudetto last season for the first time in 23 years largely on the back of the goals that their Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen plundered.
He was expected to leave for more lucrative pastures after the Serie A season was completed but to the delight of the Napoli fans has stayed on and could again be a major factor.
The last African to feature in a winning Champions League final line-up was Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, in goal for Chelsea as they edged Manchester City in the 2021 final in Porto.
Algeria captain Riyad Mahrez was an unused substitute in May as Manchester City overcame Inter, who had Andre Onana of Cameroon in their goal. Mendy and Mahrez, however, have now left for Saudi Arabia while Onana is at Manchester United, who return to the Champions League with a squad that has also been strengthened by the loan acquisition of Morocco’s World Cup midfield kingpin Sofyan Amrabat.
In total 25 of the 32 teams in the Champions League group phase have African players in their ranks: some established stars with a track record of success and others youngsters still making their way in the game.
There is no better stage than the Champions League to make an impact and there are a bevy of young African stars to keep an eye out for over the next months of the group phase before the 32 teams are whittled down to 16 for the knockout stages early next year.
Yankuba Minteh, for example, is a teenage striker from the Gambia who scored a vital goal for his country last weekend to help them to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations finals in January. He is on the books at Feyenoord Rotterdam, who are the Dutch champions and who will be competing in Group E against Atletico Madrid, Glasgow Celtic and Lazio.
Austrian club RB Salzburg, who are in Group D with Benfica, Inter Milan and Real Sociedad, have long promoted young African talent, including providing the pathway for Sadio Mane to stardom. This season they have three Malians on their books and the 19-year-old Ivorian Karim Konate, who has already been capped at full international level by his country.
Sebastian Haller will lead the attack of Borussia Dortmund, who narrowly missed out on last season’s Bundesliga title. One year ago he was diagnosed with testicular cancer but the Ivory Coast forward has fought his way back to full fitness.
Striker Luther Singh was supposed to be the lone South African representative in this season’s Champions League campaign but last week left Danish champions FC Copenhagen, who will be competing in Group A, and has moved to a club in Serbia.
Source: Mzansi Football