Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Five African-based players to watch at the Cup of Nations

Posted on 7 January 2022 by Alasdair Howorth

The Africa Cup of Nations is notorious for being a tournament that attracts scouts from around the world, looking to unearth the next Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o or Mohamed Salah. While most eyes will be on the stars based in Europe, here are five players who ply their trade in Africa, set to shine in Cameroon.

Abubaker Nassir

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Perhaps the least known player on this list, Abubaker Nassir had a brilliant 2021 He spent last season terrorising defences for Ethiopia Coffee in the Ethiopian Premier League, scoring 29 goals in 23 games.

He collected every award available in the competition, winning the golden boot, young player of the season and player of the season awards. His form has translated from club to country where he has 4 goals in 15 appearances for the Walias and was superb in Ethiopia’s World Cup qualifying campaign despite only grabbing one goal in his six games.

The versatile forward can play through the middle or on either wing, and despite being quite lean, he possesses explosive speed and is a clinical finisher. In a very technical, but not particularly physical Ethiopian side, he is the one who will break the lines of defences.

The forward has already turned down offers from Egyptian clubs and is consistently linked with moves to the biggest clubs in Africa. The AFCON poses a far bigger stage than the Ethiopian Premier League, and will undoubtedly be his biggest step up in quality of opposition, but the Addis Ababa native has all the tools to become a lethal weapon on the continental stage.

Mohamed Abdelrahman

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Sudan are at a pretty low ebb coming into the AFCON. They had a poor World Cup Qualifying campaign, being hammered 5-0 and 4-0. Drawn in a tough group with Nigeria, Egypt and Guinea-Bissau, it looks bleak for the Falcons of Jediane, but if they are to get anything out of the group it will come through talisman Mohamed Abdelrahman.

The centre-forward is one of the most capped players in a relatively inexperienced Sudanese side. And with fellow centre-forward Saif Terry missing the tournament, the goal-scoring responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of Abdelrahman.

Abdelrahman was instrumental in Sudan qualifying for AFCON. He scored a last-minute penalty in Sudan’s 1-0 win against Ghana, sparking an incredible turn around in their group.

He went on to score in the must win games against Sao Tome and Principe and South Africa, which ultimately sent Sudan to Cameroon. In their disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign he finished as top scorer.

The Al-Hilal forward likes playing as a second striker, dropping into pockets of space before turning and taking of defenders with his superb dribbling and sharp turn of pace. He is capable of scoring from all areas both inside and outside of the box and will be a threat to any defence in Cameroon.

At 28, Abdelrahman is at the peak of his powers and has been excellent for his club side Al-Hilal since resigning for his boyhood club in 2020. He will no doubt lead the line in Cameroon and all eyes will be on him to shine at the biggest tournament in Africa.

Aliou Dieng

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Aliou Dieng has been on a sharp upward trajectory since he emerged for Djoliba AC in his native Mali in 2018.

He now plies his trade at Al Ahly, Africa’s biggest and best club team. His performances in this year’s CAF Champions League were supreme as he dominated the midfields of every club Al Ahly faced.

Dieng can play deeper in the midfield, but he is best placed as a box-to-box midfielder where he can make the most of his incredible engine. A combative and extremely athletic midfielder, Dieng is equally comfortable dropping deep to break up play as he is breaking the lines as a midfielder to create a goal threat.

The 24 year old, while not being prolific, has a penchant for shots from distance. In the Cairo derby against Al Ahly’s bitter rivals Zamalek early this season, he scored one stunner from range after creating a goal from another long rang shot that was deflected.

Dieng has already attracted the attentions of big European clubs such as Galatasaray, but for now he is seemingly happy playing for the African champions.

On the international scene, Dieng first emerged as a star in Mali’s 2016 African Nation’s Championship team which reached the final.

Mali’s biggest strength is their central midfield, with Amadou Haidara and Diadie Samassékou of Leipzig and Hoffenheim respectively playing alongside Dieng recently. However, with the returning Yves Bissouma coming into the tournament in fine form for Brighton, Dieng will have a fight on his hands for his place.

Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane

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One player who matched Dieng’s performances in the CAF Champions League last year was Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane.

Despite being only 22, he has already won four league titles and two Champions League titles with Esperance Sportive de Tunis. Last season, he was the star as his side went to the semi-finals before being knocked out by Dieng’s Al Ahly.

Ben Romdhane is a classy playmaker. Usually deployed deep, he has the passing range and vision to progress the ball through the lines and create chances. Last season though demonstrated his increasing capacity to break the lines himself and be a goal threat. He ended the season with 4 goals in in 10 games in the Champions League.

He had a mixed FIFA Arab Cup in December, playing well in all but one match, being sent off against Syria. However, with coach Mondher Kebaier dropping veteran Ferjani Sassi from the Tunisian squad for the AFCON, there is now a hole to fill in the creative heart of Tunisia’s midfield.

Abdul Fatawu Issahaku

Abdul Fatawu Issahaku celebrating (Twitter)
Abdul Fatawu Issahaku celebrating (Twitter)

Abdul Fatawu Issahaku comes into the AFCON as a 17 year old and one of the youngest players to feature at the tournament, but the Ghanian midfielder has incredible expectations on him already.

Issahaku has been sensational in his first couple years as a professional in Ghana, making his debut for Steadfast FC as a 15 year old. He has since moved to Dreams FC this season and continues to star in the Ghanian Premier League.

The youngster broke into the Ghana set up in the last 12 months. He starred in the Ghana team that won the U-20 AFCON. He was player of the tournament at just 16. Later in March he joined a ‘Ghana B’ side as they went to play Uzbekistan where he scored a 35-yard freekick.

There are questions over if he will start, but in a Ghana team bereft of creativity and missing Mohamed Kudus through injury, it is the perfect platform to make his name.

Issahaku has already been linked with clubs across Europe and reports out of Ghana this week have claimed that he has already agreed a deal with Liverpool.

The left-footer has played as both a no. 8 and no. 10 but thrives most when given license to get forward as much as possible. Issahaku has excellent technique and the vision of a proper playmaker, but what has really caught people’s eyes are his long range shots.

He is already competing for the golden boot in the Ghana Premier League this season as a midfielder for a mid-table side. If he is given the chance, he will no doubt demonstrate his unbelievable potential in Cameroon.