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2021 Africa Cup of Nations Best XI

Sun 09 January 2022 | 5:30

While there are many star players in the 2021 African Cup of Nations, in this article we have built a list of the best players who can make a difference in the tournament.

The 2021

Africa Cup of Nations

will start on 9 January 2022 and will enter its 33rd edition. Reigning champions Algeria are seeking their third title in Cameroon. With seven trophies, Egypt is the biggest winner and a potential candidate for another title.

The tournament is divided into six groups, with four teams each, and consists of five phases: the group stage, the round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final. The top and second-placed teams in each group qualify directly for the knockout stage, along with the four best third-placed teams.

The group phase will run from 9 to 20 January, while the knockout rounds will take place between 23 January and 6 February, when the final will be played. Cameroon has been chosen to host the tournament for the second time. The five-time champions, who hosted the tournament in 1972, are among the continent's historical powerhouses.

There are five cities in the country that are among the

2021 Africa Cup of Nations location

and will host African Cup of Nations fixtures 2021: Yaoundé, with the Olembe Stadium, host of the opening and final matches, and the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium. In addition, Douala, with the Japoma stadium; Garoua, with the Roumdé Adjia stadium; Bafoussam, with the Kouekong stadium and Limbe, at the Limbe stadium.

2021 Africa Cup of Nations Dream Team

Filled with great players, the tournament raises high expectations. Mohamed Salah, from Egypt and Liverpool, is among the best players this year, leading the league in goals (15) and assists (9). In addition to the Egyptian, Sébastien Haller, an Ivory Coast and Ajax player is a name that catches the eye, having 10 goals in six Champions League games. He has also reportedly denounced prejudice against the competition.

The Cameroonian striker, Karl Toko Ekambi, will be playing on home soil and is one of the big names at the African Cup of Nations. The Lyon player is the top scorer in the Europa League with six goals. Edouard Mendy, the goalkeeper who was champion of the last Champions League, is another who will play in the competition for Senegal. Stay tuned as we are going to introduce the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations best XI.

Goalkeeper: Edouard Mendy

  • Full name: Édouard Osoque Mendy

  • Date of birth: 1 March 1992 (age 29)

  • Place of birth: Montivilliers, France

  • Height: 1.94 m (6 ft 4 in)

There are not many African goalkeepers who can play on the old continent or be first-choice players for their clubs, but some are able to distinguish themselves by their potentials, such as Moroccan Yassine Bounou and Senegalese Alfred Gomis and Edouard Mendy. In fact, the Chelsea goalkeeper has the most clean sheets in Europe (19 in 32 games) in 2021, ahead of Brazilian Ederson (Manchester City, 19 clean sheets in 35 games).

Having won the Champions League and the European Supercup in 2021 with Chelsea, Edouard Mendy is now part of the very small circle of the best goalkeepers in the world. On top of that, he was named UEFA's best goalkeeper for the 2020-2021 season and also Senegal's best player for 2021, bringing to an end the six-year reign of Liverpool striker Sadio Mané. While he has been on a tear of late, Edouard Mendy is still the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets in Europe in the year 2021.

Edouard is currently the star goalkeeper of the Senegalese national team and also the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, having played 16 matches for his country since 2018. Mendy was first called up by Guinea-Bissau in November 2016, even though he could have also been called up by France and

Senegal

, for unofficial friendlies against Portuguese clubs Belenenses and Estoril Praia. He was included in the preliminary call-up list for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, only to decline to play with Senegal.

Later he opted to represent the Senegalese national team, making his debut with them on 17 November 2018 in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match won 1-0 at home against Equatorial Guinea. Thereafter he became a regular starter for Senegal being called up for the African Cup of Nations, where he played the first 3 games as a starter but then missed the remaining ones due to injury.

Edouard Mendy was replaced by Alfred Gomis, with the Senegalese making it all the way to the final losing to Algeria; in the final game Mendy was called up as he had just recovered from injury, but he was not employed. He will undoubtedly be one of the key players of Senegal on their mission to become the newest team in the list of African Cup of Nations winners.

Right-Back: Achraf Hakimi

  • Full name: Achraf Hakimi Mouh

  • Date of birth: 4 November 1998 (age 23)

  • Place of birth: Madrid, Spain

  • Height: 1.81 m (5 ft 11 in)

The ex-Real Madrid defender has had a successful career so far, having played in Spain, Germany, Italy and now France. Achraf Hakimi is an adventurous right-back, who always strives to attack. The Moroccan defender is also capable of playing as a winger and was used extensively in this position during his spell at Inter Milan last season.

As a result, he had a lot of room to move forward and was very effective in attacking. In the 2020-21 season, Hakimi scored seven goals and made eight assists as Inter won Serie A. The 23-year-old has since joined Paris Saint-Germain in the summer transfer window and Although the Moroccan defender has had a difficult year with the French club, he has successfully integrated into coach Mauricio Pochettino's first team.

Hakimi made his debut with the Moroccan national team on 11 October 2016, when he was only 17 years old, in the friendly match against

Canada

, 4-0. He scored his first goal on 1 September 2017 in the 2018 World Cup qualifying match against Mali, where they won 6-0. Since that match, he has become a key part of the national team.

He was selected by coach Hervé Renard on 17 May 2018 as one of the 23 players to participate in the World Cup in Russia. His first appearance in that competition came the following 15 June, in the first match lost to Iran 0-1. However, his team was eliminated from the group stage and played in all three matches. He was called up for the African Cup of Nations the following year, in which Morocco was eliminated in the round of 16 against

Benin

1-4 on penalties after a 1-1 extra-time draw.

Hakimi was superb in 2021 and very much deserves to be on this list of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations best XI. He has also convinced Vahid Halilhodzic, who has made him one of his key players for the upcoming African Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers in March.

Central Defender: Edmond Tapsoba

  • Full name: Edmond Fayçal Tapsoba

  • Date of birth: 2 February 1999 (age 22)

  • Place of birth: Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

  • Height: 1.94 m (6 ft 4 in)

One of the younger stars to keep an eye on in the 2021 African Cup of Nations, Edmond Tapsoba is the kind of defender that a whole nation can count on to help their team in the most prestigious African competition. Together with Issoufou Dayo, Edmond Tapsoba will form the solid centre-back of the Burkina Faso team for the upcoming African Cup of Nations.

He is a central defender with good technique, quickness and reflexes. He also distinguishes himself for the confidence with which he makes his interventions and passes the ball to his teammates. While being a defender, he is also very good at scoring goals, which makes him one of the defenders who are very likely to score a goal in the upcoming African Cup of Nations.

Having started his football in Burkina Faso and grown in Portugal, Tapsoba attracted the attention of several top teams following his outstanding performances in the Portuguese league and Europa League. In the end, the winner was Bayer Leverkusen of Germany's top flight, which paid €18 million for the 20-year-old defender. Surprisingly, manager Peter Bosz made him an immediate starter.

He debuted in the Bundesliga in February 2020 against

Borussia Dortmund

in a 4-3 win. Throughout the season, which was delayed by the coronavirus epidemic, he was a regular starter and played a great game to help his team reach the quarter-finals of the Europa League and the German Cup final. He also played in the losing final against Bayern Munich. The following season Leverkusen started the season surprisingly well, even leading the table in December, before collapsing just as suddenly halfway through the season.

Tapsoba was handed his senior Burkina Faso debut in a friendly against

Uzbekistan

in August 2016 and subsequently played no part in the qualifiers for the 2017 Africa Cup, where the national team reached the semi-finals and finished third, or the 2018 World Cup. He only returned to action in two matches in May 2017. Subsequently, Tapsoba went on to miss all of the selection matches for over two years and only received a call-up to the national team squad for two matches in the spring and autumn of 2018.

It was only after his promotion to the Portuguese first division that he started to receive a regular selection. As a result, he has become a regular for the national team since June 2019. He started playing for the team in November 2019 in the qualifying phase for the 2021 African Cup of Nations, where they were able to qualify for the tournament.

Central Defender: Kalidou Koulibaly

  • Full name: Kalidou Koulibaly

  • Date of birth: 20 June 1991 (age 30)

  • Place of birth: Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, France

  • Height: 1.87 m (6 ft 2 in)

It is interesting that we have chosen the two defenders of the Senegal national team in our 2021 African Cup of Nations best XI and it is by no accident, as both of the players are playing at the peak of their careers. Kalidou Koulibaly is more experienced when compared to Abdou Diallo and without a doubt, and thus Aliou Cisse, head coach of Senegal is counting on him to organize the defensive lines of his team.

He was selected in 2011 by Abdoulaye Sarr, the coach of the Senegalese national team, for the 2012 Olympic qualifications, and by Erick Mombaerts for the 2011 Toulon Tournament with the under-20 French national team. The young player decided to play for the French national team, where he reached the final, playing three of the five matches of the tournament as a starting player, including the final which was lost against Colombia.

He also participated in the Under-20

World Cup

in the summer of 2011, appearing as a starter in six of the seven matches played by the French (missing only the round of 16 match through suspension), being eliminated in the semifinals by Portugal and also defeated in the final for 3rd place by Mexico.

He responded to the Senegalese national team's call-up for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match against

Namibia

in September 2015. He was called up for the final round of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

Having helped the team qualify for the 2018 World Cup, he was called up for the event played in Russia, where he played all three matches for the team, as they were knocked out in the group stage. Kalidou was also called up for the 2019 African Cup of Nations, in which he played all of his team's matches with the exception of the final, where he was absent due to a suspension.

As of November 2019 at the request of coach Aliou Cissé, he became the new captain of the Lions of the Teranga, succeeding Cheikhou Kouyaté. He first donned the armband on 13 of the same month in the 2-0 win against the Republic of Congo. As the Captain of the Senegalese team, many believe that they have every chance to make it to the final and win the title of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

Left-Back: Abdou Diallo

  • Full name: Abdou-Lakhad Diallo

  • Date of birth: 4 May 1996 (age 25)

  • Place of birth: Tours, France

  • Height: 1.87 m (6 ft 2 in)

In this 2021 African Cup of Nations which is about to start in a few days, there is no doubt that Abdou Diallo is well on his way to being one of the top defenders who we are going to hear his name more often. Having played in all youth ranks of the French national team, Abdou Diallo decided to represent Senegal on the senior level and is one of the footballers that we should keep an eye on.

After playing in the French youth teams from under-16 to under-21, he chose to play for his native Senegal in 2021. Senegal's interest in Abdou Diallo had a long history. At the end of the 2019-20 season, Aliou Cisse, former PSG player and coach of the Lions since 2015, made contact with him. His ambitious speech slowly made its way into the head of the 24-year-old player who finally gave in.

His trips to Senegal in 2021 also strengthened his desire to represent the country of his parents. The former Monaco man spent a lot of time talking to his family and closest friends before deciding. In private, he has also made no secret of his excitement at the possibility of winning Senegal's first-ever African Cup of Nations.

He played his first match for the Senegalese team on 26 March 2021 in the 0-0 draw against the Republic of Congo. The following 1 September, he scored his first goal for Senegal in a 2-0 win over Togo.

Abdou Diallo is well known for his strong temperament on and off the pitch. He is a very strong left-back and has superior technical skills and passing ability. He can pass the ball well to move his team forward and break up opposing players' lines. He is also an intelligent player, who can anticipate opposing passes and the actions of his teammates to make the right adjustments to the pass. He is also a fast player, physical and strong in duels.

Central Midfielder: Thomas Partey

  • Full name: Thomas Teye Partey

  • Date of birth: 13 June 1993 (age 28)

  • Place of birth: Krobo Odumase, Ghana

  • Height: 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)

His style of play is very similar to that of the Ghanaian Kessié. Partey progressed to the elite ranks at Atlético Madrid and subsequently moved to Arsenal FC. Despite being injured at the start of the season, Ghana coach Charles Akonnor had the chance to use him from the start in the qualifiers for the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon and now that they are going to take part in the tournament, all eyes of Ghanaian people will be on Thomas Partey to lead their team to glory.

After the African Cup of Nations tournament, Thomas Partey will also be looking to clinch a World Cup ticket with Ghana since they failed to make the 2018 edition in Russia. He will definitely be among the players who are expected to be in the spotlight in the qualifiers to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Partey made his Ghana football team debut on 5 May 2016, playing in a 0-2 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match in and against Mauritius. He stepped onto the pitch ten minutes before the end as a substitute for Frank Acheampong. Partey was selected by national coach Avram Grant for the Ghana squad for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

He was only absent from action in the third group match against Egypt. Ghana was knocked out in the semi-finals by Cameroon (2-0), before losing the third-place playoff as well, 1-0 to

Burkina Faso

, who was the unexpected surprise of the tournament. On 5 September 2017, Partey netted a hat-trick for the first time in his career, in the World Cup qualifier against the Republic of the Congo.

Partey was also a member of the Ghanaian squad at the 2019 African Cup of Nations. Being one of the key players, he scored in the final group match against Guinea-Bissau. The eighth final turned out to be Ghana's final destination at the African Cup of Nations. Despite Partey's utilised penalty, opponent Tunisia won after a penalty shootout.

Many fans do not know how flexible Thomas is as a player. While his natural position is as a defensive midfielder, he has also sometimes been used as an attacking midfielder, a winger, a centre back and even a striker. While playing for the Ghana national team, he tends to play a more attacking role.

Central Midfield: Naby Keita

  • Full name: Naby Laye Keïta

  • Date of birth: 10 February 1995 (age 26)

  • Place of birth: Conakry, Guinea

  • Height: 1.72 m (5 ft 8 in)

The Liverpool FC star is considered to be among Africa's best footballers who are playing in Europe. In addition, he is a leading light of the Guinean team that is looking forward to topping their performances in the 2015 African Cup of Nations and making it to the latter stages of the competition, with the help of the team leader Naby Keita. The team boasts a powerful squad with many players active in Europe. Indeed, Keita is certainly one of the players to keep an eye on in the African Cup of Nations 2022.

Being one of the best midfielders in the history of Africa, Keita is a tactically versatile midfielder, who can play as either a centre-half or a deep-lying forward. He is technically proficient and has a dynamic and intense approach. In addition, Keita has excellent dribbling skills and is a physically short player, which enables him to jump over opponents with ease.

Naby Keita was first selected for the national team by Michel Dussuyer on 25 May 2014 in a friendly match against

Mali

. During the first match, he won a penalty for a 2-1 victory for his team. Soon he became a regular player and succeeded in making the Guinean game more dynamic. He was naturally chosen to be part of the 23 players selected to play in the 2015 African Cup of Nations.

Guinea played against

Ivory Coast

, Cameroon and Mali during the competition. The team finished all three games with the same score (1-1) and was tied with Mali. The draw went in favour of the Guineans, who therefore qualified for the quarter-finals. Facing Ghana, Guinea failed to perform and suffered a severe defeat (3-0). Naby Keita did not find the net or make an assist during the competition.

After the African Cup of Nations, he continued to receive calls to the national team from Luis Fernandez, the new coach. His first international goal came on 12 November 2015 against Namibia, then his second three days later against the same team in the second round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. By the end of 2015, he was named Guinea's best player of the year.

Naby Keita is characterized as a dynamic holding midfielder with a box-to-box profile. He can also distribute the ball accurately as well as score goals on a regular basis in a playmaker's position. His profile can be compared to that of Portuguese international midfielder Deco.

Attacking Midfielder: Riyad Mahrez

  • Full name: Riyad Karim Mahrez

  • Date of birth: 21 February 1991 (age 30)

  • Place of birth: Sarcelles, France

  • Height: 1.79 m (5 ft 10 in)

Riyad Mahrez is a huge star of the Algerian football team. His journey began at Le Havre, and he was later signed by Leicester City and together with Jamie Vardy played an important role in helping the club win its first Premier League title in its history. Later he joined Manchester City, where he won several titles. Furthermore, he lifted the African Cup of Nations with Algeria. He is one of the leading stars of his country who are hopeful of defending their title in the highest level African competitions.

No matter what result they will achieve in the

2021 Africa Cup of Nations

, Riyad Mahrez and his teammates will be looking to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar with their national team. Mahrez only played one game for Algeria at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He is certainly one of the players whose name will be in the spotlight at this African qualifier.

Mahrez had his debut in the Algerian football team on 31 May 2014, in a friendly match against Armenia. After playing 71 minutes, he was then replaced by Abdelmoumene Djabou. National team coach Vahid Halilhodžić selected him on 2 June 2014 for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which was his first international tournament. On this occasion, he only played in the lost group game against

Belgium

(2-1).

On 15 October 2017, Mahrez netted his first international goal. He then fired Algeria to 2-0 in a 3-0 win against Malawi in the 2015 African Cup of Nations qualifier. Mahrez also played in this tournament with Algeria in January 2015, in Equatorial Guinea. He scored the first of two goals in the final group match, on 27 January, against Senegal (0-2 win).

Two years later, he was also part of the Algerian squad at the 2017 African Cup of Nations. With Algeria, Mahrez won the 2019 African Cup of Nations. On this occasion, he played all the matches and scored in the group match against

Kenya

, in the eighth final against Guinea and in the semi-final against Nigeria. His goal against Nigeria was the winning goal in that match (2-1). The goal was also voted the best goal of the tournament.

Mahrez is an outside forward, with a good vision and the ability to make assists. He has an excellent technique, a good shot and outstanding dribbling. His favourite role is as a right-winger, where he could target the opponent and kick at goal with his left foot. He occupied the role of the outside right-wing in a 4-4-2 at Leicester. Will Mahrez be able to improve his country’s rank in the

African Cup of Nations winners

list? We will have to wait and see.

Right Winger: Mohamed Salah

  • Full name: Mohamed Salah Hamed Mahrous Ghaly

  • Date of birth: 15 June 1992 (age 29)

  • Place of birth: Nagrig, Basyoun, Egypt

  • Height: 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)

Egypt's Mohamed Salah is widely regarded as one of the best African players who are active in Europe. His reputation precedes him, particularly after the numerous successes he has enjoyed with his club, Liverpool FC, where he has won the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, among others. Mohamed Salah qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia with his national team and also took part in the world tournament. He also played in the final of the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations with

Egypt

.

The best Egyptian footballer ever has also scored a strong 45 goals in 73 games for his country so far. Mo Salah is currently getting ready to compete in the 2021 African Cup of Nations with his teammates, with the hope of clinching the title. Following the African tournament, Salah and co will be aiming to get a ticket to Qatar 2022 World Cup, Salah is, without doubt, one of the players who will attract the most attention during this African Cup of Nations 2022 and the subsequent World Cup qualifying campaign.

In 2011, he participated in two matches with the Olympic national team, before he made his debut with the senior national team on 3 September in the match against Sierra Leone. He took part with the Olympic national team in the London Olympic Games in 2012.

He was named by coach Héctor Cúper on 4 January 2017 in the 23-man squad list for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. He scored the goal on 25 January that allowed Egypt to win over Ghana in the group stage. He netted the 1-0 goal on 1 February in the semi-final against Burkina Faso, a match that saw Egypt win 4-3 only on penalties after extra time had ended 1-1.

Thanks to a double in the qualifying match against Congo on 8 October 2017, he decided the team's participation in the 2018 World Cup, 27 years after the Egyptians' last appearance in the final stage of the tournament. On 4 June 2018, he was then included in the 23-man squad for the World Cup.

After returning in record time from an injury suffered in the 2017-2018 UEFA

Champions League

final, he appeared in Russia in the second match of the group stage, which was played in St. Petersburg and lost to Russia (3-1), where he scored his first goal at the World Cup, on a penalty kick.

Egypt was, however, eliminated from the competition by the end of the match, having also lost the first match. In the third and final match of the round, Salah scored the first goal of the match, which finished with a 2-1 victory for Saudi Arabia. With his 2 goals, he is Egypt's top scorer at the World Cup. Egyptians are hoping to add to their impressive record as the most successful African Cup of Nations winners with the help of Mo Salah.

Left Winger: Sadio Mane

  • Full name: Sadio Mané

  • Date of birth: 10 April 1992 (age 29)

  • Place of birth: Bambali, Sédhiou, Senegal

  • Height: 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)

The Senegalese team has a number of stars, but Sadio Mané remains the most prominent of them all. The Liverpool FC striker, who has achieved many successes with his club, was featured in the final of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with his national team which they lost to Algeria. Boasting many stars in all lines of the national team, Sadio Mane and his teammates are looking forward to winning the African Cup of Nations 2022 and bringing the trophy to their country for the first time in their history.

Following the African Cup of Nations, Sadio Mane and co will be aiming to reach Qatar 2022, but that is not the end of the story. The Senegalese, in fact, are looking to put their disappointing exit after the group stage of the 2018 World Cup behind them and do better in the upcoming next edition. He will definitely be one of the protagonists of the African qualifying round.

He debuted with the Senegalese national team on 25 May 2012 in the friendly against Morocco, providing the assist for the decisive 1-0. He participated in the London 2012 Olympic Games with the Lions of the Teranga, playing 4 games without scoring.

He also took part in the 2015 African Cup of Nations, where Senegal was knocked out on the group stage. During the 2017 African Cup of Nations, he scored two goals, one of them on a penalty kick. He failed to score the fifth and final penalty of the quarter-finals against Cameroon, a mistake that resulted in his team's elimination from the competition.

Afterwards, Senegal qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, in which Mané captained the team, scoring a goal in the 2-2 draw against Japan. Nevertheless, the African team was knocked out in the group stage, finishing third in the group, behind the Japanese and Colombia. Mané was later called up for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, where he scored 3 goals, reaching the final of the tournament, which was lost to Algeria.

Centre Forward: Sebastian Haller

  • Full name: Sébastien Romain Teddy Haller

  • Date of birth: 22 June 1994 (age 27)

  • Place of birth: Ris-Orangis, France

  • Height: 1.90 m (6 ft 3 in)

In the wake of his excellent season with Ajax (10 goals in the group stage of the Champions League), the Ivorian is being tipped to finish at the top of the goalscoring charts of the 2021 African Cup of Nations. But the Elephants will have to go far in this tournament. If he continues his current form, the former West Ham man can cause Cameroon a great deal of pain in an Ivorian squad in search of revenge after their elimination in the qualifying round of the World Cup.

Sébastien Haller was regularly called up to the various youth categories of the French team. He thus plays for the under 16s, under 17s, under 18s, under 19s and ultimately the under 21s. Haller last played 20 times for the U21 national team between 2013 and 2016, for whom he debuted on 14 November 2013 in a 6-0 win against the Armenian U21 national team, also scoring his first goal. In total, he scored 13 times in 20 matches for the U21s.

The 26-year-old Franco-Ivorian was approached by Ivory Coast coach Patrice Beaumelle in 2020, who persuaded him to choose the Elephants, despite having grown up in France and having played for Les Bleus at youth level. He was called up on 5 November for a double friendly match against Madagascar. In his first cap on 12 November, he entered the field in the 25th minute and scored the winning goal in the 55th minute (final score 2-1).

A very physically strong centre forward, he is very effective both in the build-up and the finishing phases. He is technical, quick and has a good eye for goal and has been compared to Olivier Giroud. Being one of the best strikers of the current UEFA Champions League season, many football pundits believe that Sebastian Haller will be able to guide his team and country to the latter stages of the competition.

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