Thursday 20 June 2019, 00:16

Eight stars to watch at Africa's showpiece

  • Africa Cup of Nations set to kick off on 21 June

  • Salah dreaming of continental title on home soil

  • Fierce competition with Mane, Mahrez and others harbouring same goal

After standout campaigns with their European club sides this season, Mohamed Salah, Hakim Ziyech, Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez now find themselves in Egypt for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2019. However, the quartet, who will be among the headliners at the 32nd edition of the continental championship set to kick off on 21 June, are not the only stars on show. We take a look at eight marvels from the Mother Continent who could dazzle in the land of the Pharaohs.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

One of the driving forces behind a magnificent season for Liverpool that culminated in their UEFA Champions League triumph, the irrepressible winger will be trying to keep that going and land his first national-team title after the disappointment of finishing runners-up in this competition two years ago. A veritable living legend in his homeland, Salah will not be short of motivation, as he will be playing on home soil in front of his adoring fans.

Sadio Mane (Senegal)

A team-mate of Salah’s at Liverpool, Mane can also look back fondly at a great season with his club. With a string of goals, assists and wonderful moves, the Senegalese star contributed enormously to the Reds' European triumph. Buoyed by his best ever club season, he will be carrying the hopes of an entire nation at the tournament.

Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)

Another club to have a stunning Champions League campaign this season were Dutch giants Ajax, due in no small part to the form of the Moroccan winger. Consistently impressive with the Amsterdam outfit, where he has been player of the year for the last two seasons, Ziyech has not yet had the same influence with the Atlas Lions. Egypt 2019 looks like the perfect opportunity to change all that.

Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)

Despite winning the Premier League last season with Manchester City, Algeria’s dynamic attacking midfielder was frustrated not to have started more games with the Sky Blues. By contrast, Mahrez is at the centre of everything with Les Fennecs and has the full confidence of coach Djamel Belmadi, who will be tasking him with unlocking opposition defences in Egypt.

Nicolas Pepe (Côte d’Ivoire)

Second to Kylian Mbappe in the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 22 goals, the Lille front man was the revelation of the French league last season. Versatile, fast and with wonderful technique, the Ivorian has all the attributes to be a top player. Expected to spearhead the Elephants’ attack, Pepe looks poised to fill a role that has been vacant since the retirement of Didier Drogba.

Andre Onana (Cameroon)

Almost flawless in goal this season with Ajax, the 23-year-old is hoping to continue the proud lineage of Cameroonian keepers established by Joseph Antoine Bell, Thomas N’Kono and Carlos Kameni. He certainly has the potential, and this Cup of Nations could be his chance to prove that he can replicate the form shown on his club’s European adventure.

Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal)

Voted best defender in Italy’s Serie A last season, the rugged and skilful central defender suffered the disappointment of finishing runner-up in the league with Napoli. Now though, he has the chance to put that behind him with Senegal. With Koulibaly at the heart of defence and Mane up front, the Lions of Teranga have two key weapons as they go in search of a long sought-after, maiden continental crown.

Naby Keita (Guinea)

With the versatility to play anywhere in midfield, the Guinean is fit again after a groin injury last month that ruled him out of the UEFA Champions League final and the final weeks of Liverpool’s season. The 24-year-old is understandably keen for a return to competitive action, which is good news for his country. After all, this is a tournament he relishes, having been one of the revelations of the 2015 edition.