AFCON 2019: Six Stars To Watch Out For At The 2019 AFCON Featured
19 Jun

AFCON 2019: Six Stars To Watch Out For At The 2019 AFCON

Africa’s football greatest showpiece is almost here. The continent’s very best players are converging on Egyptian soil to put on what should be a tournament every bit as scintillating as the one we experienced two years ago.

The hosts have been granted a group that looks favourable on paper but might well be deceptive. There’s DR Congo and Uganda, though there’s also a noticeably Zimbabwe.
Ghana meanwhile - having reached the Finals in 2010 and 2015 - are looking to bag their first  AFCON trophy since 1982 and improve upon the fourth-place spot set in 2017 in Gabon.
Without further ado, it’s time to take a look at the key players to watch out for in the coming weeks.
Thomas Partey (Ghana)
In complete contrast to the stigma attached to the team nowadays, the Black Stars can look extremely easy on the eye, and have done well to make an appearance in Egypt. One of those primary reasons is their creative midfielder, Thomas Partey.
The Atletico Madrid man is the star of the Ghanaian side that has Asamoah Gyan, Andre Ayew and Christian Atsu.
Being linked to several clubs, he likes to snap at his opponent’s heels and burgle them of possession before they have the chance to engage him in a one-on-one duel.
He currently averages 2.3 interceptions per game, according to Opta. He forces turnovers high up the field, before inching forwards into the opponent’s half.
As a consequence of his high pressing style, he is also a fairly prolific fouler, averaging 1.9 offences per match. This may, clandestinely, be seen as worthwhile collateral damage for many managers.
In the event that he misjudges an interception, he is not averse to breaking up the play with a tug on the shirt to halt counter attacks.
Because he commits the foul early and high up the pitch, he is rarely booked for his indiscretions, picking up 8 yellow cards and a red card in his 42 appearances for his club. He could be the man to lead Ghana to the promise land.
Mohammed Salah (Egypt)
Currently regarded as the one of the best attackers in the game, Salah will seek to replicate the form that made him a thorn in the flesh of many defences in Europe as he led Liverpool to a UEFA Champions League triumph and a second place finish in the EPL.
He scored 22 goals in 32 appearances to emerge a joint goal-king in England and also scored 5 in 12 games in the Champions League.
Whilst probably not the traditional style of number 9, Salah knows where the net is and he knows how to help his teammates find it too.
Salah usually operates on the right side of attack, cutting in on his stronger left foot. He’s a quick, fluid mover with and without the ball, has great close control and the ability to create and take chances in equal measure.
Sadio Mane (Senegal)
Tagged as the perennial under-achievers, the Teranga Lions have always been among the bookmakers favourite to win a competition but they’ve always flattered to deceive.
The current side boasts of talented individuals who have carved a niche for themselves in Europe and would be seeking to lead their country to an AFCON triumph.
Should they be able to realise this dream, they will need a fit Sadio Mane to be on top of his game.
Arguably one of the best forwards on the continent, the Liverpool man will be instrumental for Senegal this term. The Liverpool star lights up games with his superb dribbles ,remarkable passing and goals, all while married to a non chalant action style.
The timing of his runs to get behind defenders is excellent, and he keeps a cool head in one-on-one situations.
Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)
For the majority of 2016, few would have batted an eyelid at Moroccan attacking midfielder Hakim Ziyech, but that could hardly be further from the case these days.
The 26-year-old forced his way into selection after impressing for club side Ajax, and his stock appears to be rising with each passing day.
He 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, bagging 21 goals and 24 assists for the club across all competitions.
Attacking is his primary focus, and his wand of a left foot allows him to whip in outstanding cross after outstanding cross. His ability to pick out a man in the box is incredible, so expect Morocco to call on him time and time again.
Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)
As one of the exhilarating players at the entire tournament, all eyes will be on Algeria's 18-year-old Riyad Mahrez, but that's nothing new to him. Mahrez is an outstanding talent who knows how to use his pace and skills to leave opponents in awe. Quick and deceptively strong, he truly is a defender's nightmare.
It was a roller-coaster season for him at the Etihad where he struggled to command a regular place in Guardiola’s team. He could only score seven goals in 27 outings but that does not in any put his talent in doubt. You doubt him at your own peril. 
Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast)
The most sought-after African player in Europe, Nicolas Pepe had a tremendous season in France with Lille. He scored 22 goals with 11 assists in 38 appearances in the French topflight. The first thing you’ll notice when watching Pépé in action is his directness. Every move he makes when in possession is forward-thinking.
However, there is far more to his game than just penetrative dribbling and in the just ended season Pépé was adjudged one of the best in France at threatening the opposition goal.
Whether he is fashioning shooting opportunities or being the finisher of chances created by teammates, his total scoring attempts per 90 of 4.62 was the third highest figure in Ligue 1.
It’s a pity that the Elephants are so readily dismissed when they have the likes of Seri, Bony, Zaha, Kessie and Pepe in their ranks. Sit back and enjoy.
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