May 29, 2024

Afcon 2023: Who could star at tournament in Ivory Coast?

The 34th Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) gets under way in Ivory Coast on 13 January, with the final in Abidjan on 11 February.

Several Premier League sides will be losing some star names, and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah will be extra-motivated to end his country’s 14-year wait for continental success.

BBC Sport Africa profiles six players who all have different reasons to make an impact at the tournament.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Egypt suffered double heartbreak at the hands of Senegal in 2022, first losing the Nations Cup final to the Teranga Lions and then being denied a place at the World Cup in Qatar by the West Africans too.

Both those matches were settled by penalty shoot-outs – and Salah did not even have the chance to take a spot-kick in the Afcon final as he was held back to take a fifth kick which never came.

The most recent of Egypt’s seven continental crowns came in 2010 and Salah will be looking to go one better than he did in Gabon in 2017 and Cameroon last year.

Salah has a glittering array of medals from his time with Liverpool but the 31-year-old will be eager to add to his six goals from three previous trips to the Nations Cup as he bids to fire the Pharaohs to glory.

As influential as ever at Anfield this season, the ‘Egyptian King’ will skipper his side against Ghana, Cape Verde and Mozambique in Group B.

Victor Osimhen (Nigeria)

Victor Osimhen has scored 20 goals in 27 senior international appearances for Nigeria

Victor Osimhen has scored 20 goals in 27 senior international appearances for Nigeria

After missing the 2021 edition through a combination of Covid-19 and injury, can the newly-crowned African Footballer of the Year inspire Nigeria to a first title since 2013?

The 24-year-old has established himself as one of Europe’s top strikers, finishing last season as top scorer in Serie A as Napoli won a first Italian title since 1990.

Nigeria, with Osimhen missing through injury, could only draw their 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Lesotho and Zimbabwe in November, and now he has the chance to play an important role for his country at Afcon for the first time.

The former Lille man was in the Super Eagles squad at the 2019 finals, but only featured as a half-time substitute as Nigeria won the third-placed play-off.

The West Africans are up against hosts Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau in Group A and, with rumours linking him with a move to the Premier League, is this the time for Osimhen to truly announce himself on the senior international stage?

Serhou Guirassy (Guinea)

The striker had a blistering start to the new season with club side Stuttgart, firing in 15 goals in his first 10 outings in the German Bundesliga.

The 27-year-old former France youth international will be heading to Afcon for the first time after making his Guinea debut in March 2022.

Holders Senegal and continental heavyweights Cameroon provide tricky company for Syli National in Group C, with second-time qualifiers The Gambia rounding off the line-up.

Injuries in November halted his momentum and Guinea will hope Guirassy has packed his shooting boots as the West Africans look to reach the last 16.

Mohammed Kudus (Ghana)

Mohammed Kudus scored twice as Ghana beat South Korea at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

Ghana head to neighbouring Ivory Coast looking to avoid a repeat of their group-stage exit at the 2021 Nations Cup, which included a shock 3-2 defeat by Comoros.

The Black Stars underwhelmed in their opening two qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup – and lightning struck twice as the West Africans fell to another loss against Comoros.

Kudus was Ghana’s top scorer in qualifying for the Nations Cup, netting three goals, and his influence for West Ham United has continued to grow since his switch to the Premier League club in August.

After scoring twice at the 2022 World Cup finals, can the 23-year-old forward help Ghana return to the pinnacle of the African game despite a stern early test against Egypt?

Issa Kabore (Burkina Faso)

The attacking right-back was voted as the best young player at the 2021 finals, catching the eye as Burkina Faso reached the last four before losing to eventual champions Senegal.

Kabore has been on the books of Manchester City since joining from Belgian club Mechelen in 2020 but is still awaiting his debut for the reigning Premier League and European champions.

After loan spells in France with Troyes and Marseille, the 22-year-old is now getting a taste of the English top flight with a Luton Town side who are battling relegation.

With Burkina Faso facing Algeria, Mauritania and Angola in Group D, Kabore – who already has over 30 international caps to his name – has another opportunity on the continental stage to stake a claim for a place in Pep Guardiola’s City squad next season.

Azzedine Ounahi (Morocco)

The rangy midfielder’s impressive box-to-box-displays in Morocco’s history-making run at the 2022 World Cup were a major factor in Ounahi securing a move to French giants Marseille after the finals.

However, a broken toe sustained on duty with the Atlas Lions in March ended his season after just seven brief league outings for his new side.

The 23-year-old is working his way back to hitting the high notes he reached in Qatar, and Ounahi did not feature in the North Africans’ sole World Cup qualifier in November.

However, boss Walid Regragui may well turn back to a man who was a key cog in reaching the World Cup semi-finals as Morocco come up against DR Congo, Zambia and Tanzania in Group F.

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