Six players to watch at AFCON 2023

FOOTBALL Six players to watch at AFCON 2023

Festus Chuma 15:23 - 12.01.2024

AFCON 2023 kicks off on January 13 and six star players are poised to shine in this exciting tournament.

As the African football spectacle draws near, the excitement among fans reaches a fever pitch, with just hours remaining until the kickoff of the Africa Cup of Nations 2023 in Ivory Coast.

The Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan will come alive as the hosts face Guinea-Bissau in what promises to be a thrilling tournament.

Senegal, the defending champions who triumphed in a dramatic penalty shootout against Egypt in the previous edition, will be looking to defend their title and etch their name in history. 

In this feature article, Pulse Sports delves into the captivating narratives and pivotal roles of six exceptional players who could determine their respective nations' fate in the quest for the coveted AFCON trophy.

Mohamed Salah,Egypt

For Egypt, AFCON success has become synonymous with the brilliance of Mohamed Salah. The 31-year-old forward shoulders the hopes and dreams of a nation eager to add an eighth continental title to their illustrious history.

Having tasted both victory and defeat in AFCON finals, Salah's quest for redemption adds a compelling layer to this tournament. This edition marks a crucial juncture, potentially the last where Salah can claim to be at the zenith of his powers.

 With 53 international goals in 93 appearances, Salah's scoring prowess will be pivotal in erasing the bitter memories of their defeat to Senegal in the last AFCON final.

As the Pharaohs look to reclaim their status as African champions, Salah's ability to navigate through opposition defenses and find the back of the net will be closely scrutinized. 

His influence extends beyond scoring, as his leadership and playmaking will determine Egypt's journey in the tournament. 

AFCON 2023 may very well be the stage where Mohamed Salah cements his legacy as one of Egypt's all-time greats or leaves the nation yearning for what could have been.

Sadio Mane, Senegal

While Senegal's triumph in the 2021 AFCON final crowned Sadio Mane as a national hero, his absence in the 2022 World Cup showcased his irreplaceable role within the team. The Lions of Teranga, without Mane, faltered on the global stage, emphasizing his significance.

Now, as Senegal seeks to defend their AFCON crown, Mane's form becomes paramount. With 39 goals in 100 appearances for his country, Mane's attacking prowess has been instrumental in Senegal's recent successes.

As Senegal's main man, Mane's ability to create goal-scoring opportunities, lead by example, and inspire his teammates will be critical. 

The hopes of an entire nation hinge on Mane's ability to fire on all cylinders, replicating his club success on the international stage. 

AFCON 2023 offers Mane an opportunity for redemption after the World Cup setback, and Senegal will rely heavily on his mercurial talents to navigate through the challenges and emerge triumphant once again.

Victor Osimhen, Nigeria

Victor Osimhen's meteoric rise to become the leading scorer in Serie A last season captured the attention of the football world. Now, the 25-year-old Nigerian striker is set to make his mark on the AFCON stage, denied a chance at the 2022 World Cup by a playoff defeat to Ghana. 

Osimhen's goal-scoring exploits at Napoli, coupled with his physical prowess, position him as a focal point in Nigeria's quest for a fourth AFCON title. 

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As Nigeria aims to secure only their second AFCON crown in 30 years, Osimhen's ability to find the net consistently will be a decisive factor. 

The 2023 African Player of the Year will not only carry the responsibility of scoring goals but also of creating space for his teammates through his relentless work rate.

With 20 goals in 27 appearances, Osimhen is poised to be a leading contender for the tournament's golden boot, symbolizing Nigeria's resurgence on the continental stage.

Hakim Ziyech,Morocco

Morocco enters AFCON 2023 as a team to beat, with a robust defensive setup and ambitions to clinch the title. Amidst the defensive prowess, Hakim Ziyech emerges as a key figure in providing the attacking impetus. 

On loan at Galatasaray from Chelsea, Ziyech's ability to score and create opportunities will be pivotal in Morocco's quest for success.

As Morocco's primary source of goals and assists, Ziyech's form could tip the scales in their favor. The 28-year-old, with 20 goals in 54 international appearances, aims to rediscover the magic that earned him a move to Stamford Bridge in 2020.

If Ziyech can channel the brilliance he displayed at FC Twente and Ajax, Morocco becomes a formidable force capable of breaking down even the most resilient defenses.

Andre Onana,Cameroon

Cameroon's resurgence in AFCON 2023 sees the return of Andre Onana, whose international retirement and subsequent recall have added a layer of intrigue. 

The 27-year-old goalkeeper's role is not only vital between the posts but also as a sweeper keeper influencing his team's build-up play. 

Onana's reconciliation with the squad following his World Cup dismissal marks a potential turning point in Cameroon's quest for success.

As Cameroon's last line of defense, Onana's shot-stopping abilities and distribution skills will be instrumental. His unexpected return adds a subplot to the tournament, with questions surrounding the dynamics within the team. 

If Onana can replicate his club form and establish a seamless understanding with the defense, Cameroon's journey in AFCON 2023 may become a testament to resilience and unity.

Riyad Mahrez, Algeria

Having captained Algeria to victory in the 2019 AFCON final, Riyad Mahrez returns to the continental stage with a new mission. 

The 32-year-old winger, now plying his trade with Al Ahli in the Saudi Pro League, brings a wealth of experience and a proven track record of success. 

Mahrez's role as a talismanic figure for Algeria places him at the center of their aspirations for another triumph.

With 30 goals in 89 appearances, Mahrez's ability to unlock defenses and deliver moments of brilliance will be crucial. 

While a repeat of their 2019 success may seem challenging, Mahrez's leadership and individual brilliance could propel Algeria to new heights. 

AFCON 2023 becomes a stage for Mahrez to showcase his enduring magic, potentially scripting another chapter in Algeria's footballing history.