Five stars to follow at the Africa Cup of Nations

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The 2024 Africa Cup of Nations takes place in Ivory Coast from January 13 to February 11. Some of the biggest names in world football will feature at the tournament, and AFP Sport picks out five to follow:

VICTOR OSIMHEN (Nigeria)

The prospect of Osimhen leading Nigeria into the Afcon is a mouthwatering one for Super Eagles fans. He heads to Ivory Coast fresh from being named the African player of the year for 2023 off the back of his brilliant form in Napoli’s run to the Serie A title.

He scored 26 goals for Napoli last season but has struggled in comparison in this campaign, netting only eight times. However, he has just signed a new contract at his club and will be eager to make up for lost time at the Cup of Nations.

Osimhen hardly featured as Nigeria finished third at the 2019 tournament and sat out the last edition two years ago due to a combination of a facial injury and an untimely bout of Covid.

MOHAMED SALAH (Egypt)

The 31-year-old Liverpool forward is a superstar of the English Premier League and a sporting icon across the Arab world. He is the joint top scorer in the Premier League this season with 14 goals, helping take Liverpool to the top of the table. The danger for Jurgen Klopp’s team is that their title challenge could be blown off course as they would lose Salah for four league games if he goes all the way at the Afcon with Egypt.

That though is the aim for Salah, who made his international debut in 2011, a year after Egypt won the last of their record seven Cup of Nations crowns. He played in the teams that lost the Afcon finals in 2017, to Cameroon, and in 2022 to Senegal, and will be hoping this year to take the extra step.

SADIO MANE (Senegal)

Mane was the hero as Senegal shook off years of underachievement to win the Cup of Nations for the first time in 2022, scoring the winning penalty in the shoot-out against Egypt in Yaounde.

The two-time former African footballer of the year was the runner-up for the Ballon d’Or in 2022 but there might be concerns his career has gone backwards to some extent since then.

Injury ruled him out of the World Cup in Qatar, and he then left Bayern Munich after just one season to join Al Nassr in the Saudi Pro League. Does that mean that, now aged 31, he might have lost some of his edge since leaving Europe? Senegal fans will hope not. He is still averaging almost a goal every second game for his club, where he plays alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, and is key to his country’s chances of retaining their continental crown.

SERHOU GUIRASSY (Guinea)

Guinea are ranked only 15th in Africa, have made little impact on the latter stages of recent Afcon tournaments, and face a fight just to get out of a group containing Senegal, Cameroon and Gambia. Yet they do boast a player who has been a sensation in the German Bundesliga this season in Guirassy, the 27-year-old French-born striker.

The former France Under-20 international had averaged a very respectable 10 league goals a season over the last three years at Rennes and then VfB Stuttgart but his form with the latter in this campaign has been remarkable.

Guirassy has 19 goals in 16 games in all competitions for his club, including two hat-tricks, to help Stuttgart up to third in the table. Only Harry Kane of Bayern Munich has scored more Bundesliga goals. Now it remains to be seen if he can transfer his club form to the international stage, where his record so far with Guinea is modest.

ACHRAF HAKIMI (Morocco)

The marauding Paris Saint-Germain right-back is the biggest star in a Morocco team ranked No 1 in Africa and who come into the Afcon with big ambitions after reaching the World Cup semifinals just over a year ago.

The runner-up to Osimhen for the African footballer of the year award is theoretically a defender, but he provides a huge attacking threat down the flank and has been in outstanding form for his club this season. If Hakimi stays fit and performs at his best, Morocco have every chance of winning a first Afcon since 1976.

Source: AFP

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