The first ever 24 team Africa Cup of Nations kicks off today in Egypt. There will be 552 players at the 32 edition of the tournament representing their respective countries. Beyond the big guns; Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Wilfred Zaha, Thomas Partey, Riyad Mahrez and Hakeem Ziyech, here are five names who Sakyibea Ofori thinks could take this AFCON by storm.
NICHOLAS PEPE – IVORY COAST
Former champions Ivory Coast will be expected to do better than 2017 where they suffered a group stage exit. And one player that can help them is Nicholas Pepe.
The 25-year-old is one player to look out for in this year's tournament following his exploits for his club, Lille in the just ended season.
He scored a total of 22 goals in 38 matches as Lille finished only behind champions PSG in the league to secure a place in next season's Champions League group stage. His goal-scoring form has made him a transfer target for European champions Liverpool, Bayern Munich as well as Manchester United.
MBABYE DIAGNE – SENEGAL
It’s no secret that Senegal mean business in this competition and they have been tipped by many to win the trophy. Their coach, Aliou Cissé, has selected seven attackers led by Liverpool's Sadio Mane. But one player who can be of great help to the team is Mbaye Diagne, who is making a debut appearance.
The 27-year-old scored 30 goals in 29 matches in Turkey. He found the net 20 times for Kasimpasa in the first round of the season before moving to Galatasaray where he bagged 10 goals. His goals helped Galatasaray to a domestic double.
A partnership with Sadio Mane could cause a lot of havoc to defences as Senegal look to break the curse of not winning an AFCON trophy.
VICTOR WANYAMA – KENYA
This man needs no introduction. His consistency for Tottenham has him earned a place in my list. Since joining Tottenham in 2016, the Harambee Stars captain has intercepted 217 balls and made 260 clearances making it obvious his ability to disrupt attack from his opponents any time he steps up to it.
He also has recovered 976 balls plus won 950 aerial duels, numbers that prove he can man mark any attacker who sets out to score against Kenya. These statistics make him a high powered weapon for Kenya and his potential to light up this competition should not be taken lightly.
ODION IGHALO – NIGERIA
If there is any player who can bag the goals for Nigeria in Egypt, then it is Odion Ighalo. With seven goals, he finished as top scorer in the qualifiers.
The Chinese-based striker scored 21 goals in 28 matches for Changchun Yatai. In February 2019, he moved to Shanghai Shenhua and netted seven goals in nine games before joining Nigeria's team for the tournament. With his greatest attribute, scoring goals, he is going to break the hearts of many opponents but win their admiration.
ACRHAF HAKIMI – MOROCCO
Real Madrid youngster Achraf Hakimi, who is currently halfway through a two-year loan spell at Borussia Dortmund, is one to keep an eye out for. His versatility has been one of his key assets so far in his career. The 20-year-old can play on either side of the defence or at centre-back.
Coming off the back of an electric World Cup campaign, Hakimi will look to set the African continent ablaze with his marauding overlapping runs on the flanks. He managed 31 appearances for Dortmund last season scoring three goals and registering seven assists.
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