Cameroon will be awash with the very best of Africa’s top talents as the African Cup of Nations kicks off on Sunday.
Amidst the litany of world-class talents who grace the Premier League on a weekly basis, there are also a number of highly-rated players who are yet to represent their country in the African showpiece.
Hence, a successful outing at AFCON 2021 might throw these stars into the limelight of international football. So who are these players set to grace the biennial tournament for the first time?
FootballCastle provides detailed background on five of the very best.
The teenager continues to prove his worth in Ligue 1 with some electrifying performances in his maiden campaign after joining Rennes in a Danish League record transfer.
Sulemana is an exciting winger with an unlimited supply of flair, dribbling and pace which is set to please the crowd in Cameroon. Completing more dribbles per 90 minutes (4.8) than any other player in the French top-flight, the 19-year-old will refresh an unfancied Black Stars side that will be hoping to storm to a first title in 40 years.
Largely expected to be influential for the West Africans, Sulemana will attract lots of attention when he gets into his amazing groove and AFCON 2021 might prove a breakthrough in international football for the youngster who debuted in 2020.
The UEFA Champions League top scorer is under pressure to recreate those heroics in the cut-throat atmosphere of an international tournament and the Ajax striker will fancy his chances.
Haller had a prolific 2021 calendar year after leaving West Ham as he joined Marco Van Basten in scoring four goals on his UCL debut, an incredible group stage campaign also made Haller the fastest man to score ten goals in Champions League history.
After becoming the second player to score in every group game in a single campaign (alongside Cristiano Ronaldo), the Ivory Coast man will be banking on his goalscoring instincts at AFCON.
The 27-year-old has been refined as a goal poacher since moving to the Netherlands and more of that would continue his incredible ascent as a top striker in world football.
The postponed AFCON 2021 couldn’t have come at a better time for the Nigerian who is in the form of his life at Rangers.
After winning the Scottish Premier League unbeaten last season, the 25-year-old has been clinical of late and is on course to register his most prolific season for goal contributions. Aribo is arguably the best midfielder in the league as he ranks second for goals (six) and third for assists (three) in the Gers squad.
Aribo scored twice in his first two international caps in 2019 but has had to fill a deeper midfield role alongside Wilfred Ndidi since. His all-action displays for a title-chasing team could sway interim Head Coach, Augustine Eguavoen, into giving the midfielder more attacking responsibilities which suits his natural game.
The technically-gifted playmaker will nevertheless relish his first international tournament as Nigeria seek to win a fourth AFCON title.
The 26-year-old has finally made it to AFCON after unfortunately withdrawing from the triumphant 2019 selection due to injury.
Benrahma is another who has benefitted from the postponement as he is playing his best football for West Ham for whom he has scored eight times and assisted four more this season.
The attacking midfielder will add his immense creativity and bag of tricks to an Algeria squad that is booming with talent and confidence having already lifted the Arab Cup last month.
Benrahma is just one of an incredible attacking roll call consisting of captain Riyad Mahrez, Adam Ounas, Youcef Belaïli, Yacine Brahimi, Farid Boulaya, record goalscorer Islam Slimani, Baghdad Bounedjah and Mohamed Amine Amoura. Nevertheless, a wing pairing with Mahrez is a tantalizing prospect that could prove the difference in winning a second consecutive AFCON.
AFCON will be richer for the dazzling displays of the Super Eagles winger who made his debut in 2020 and could be stepping into a key role in his first international tournament.
Ejuke is among the Nigeria squad that has been depleted by withdrawals of major players especially in attack, paving the way for a maverick like the CSKA Moscow man to grab the headlines.
While the 24-year-old is a fantastic dribbler who will surely get fans out of their seats, the lack of a talismanic presence in Augustine Eguavoen’s forward ranks bodes well for Ejuke who has been hailed to become a key man by the interim manager.
Ejuke’s magnificent skills, vision and quick feet which allow him to beat opponents with consummate ease, has been recognized on the global stage as he was ranked as the third-best dribbler in world football, according to CIES Football Observatory in November 2021.
AFCON is more than the perfect platform to officially announce his name to the international audience and also claim a consistent role in the Super Eagles.