The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) started this month in Cote d’Ivoire, with 24 nations vying for the title of the top team in Africa.
The event has been rescheduled to avoid the rainy season in the West African country. However, it will still be called the 2023 AFCON for branding and commercial purposes.
The competition, with a duration of little less than a month, showcases top-tier football professionals, together with a multitude of talented young players and a few lesser-known individuals eager to establish their presence.
With that in mind, we’ve scouted some top-tier talent participating at the 2023 AFCON and shortlisted our favourites to provide you with a collection of rising stars in Africa you should watch.
In recent years, Red Bull Salzburg has established a notable reputation as a fertile environment for nurturing highly skilled young players, particularly in the forward position. Karim Konaté appears to be the next player in line to emerge off the production line, and this event presents him with the chance to make a significant declaration.
Konaté possesses exceptional speed, intelligence, and the potential to become an elite finisher. He might be a very unpredictable asset for Ivory Coast. While he is likely to play mostly on the left side, he has consistently demonstrated his ability to make crucial contributions in the penalty area throughout his career.
Konaté has taken 38 shots this season in Austria’s premier league, which is a number surpassed by only six players. However, none of those players have a conversion rate as high as his impressive 21.1%. It is worth noting that most of Konaté’s shots were taken from within the penalty area.
Despite winning only one AFCON championship since their initial triumph in 1992, Ivory Coast has often fallen short of expectations in this tournament. Nonetheless, they are anticipated to significantly impact the competition once again, offering Konaté several chances to showcase his talents.
Pape Matar Sarr
The central midfielder, who transferred to Tottenham from Metz in 2021, is already establishing himself as one of the premier players in his position in the Premier League.
He had a minor hamstring strain during the match against Bournemouth on New Year’s Eve, but he has been deemed medically fit to participate for Senegal.
Coach Aliou Cissé will anticipate his availability at the beginning of the campaign since none of the teams in Group C—Cameroon, Guinea, and Gambia—should be underestimated.
He provides a high level of performance in midfield, contributing both in attack and defence. His ability to create scoring opportunities and his aggressive defensive style will unquestionably disrupt the opposition.
Mokoena is a prominent member of the Mamelodi Sundowns contingent on the South Africa team, which offers a sense of familiarity that might prove advantageous.
The 26-year-old midfielder is a vital component of the highly praised Sundowns squad, led by coach Rhulani Mokwena, and the team will need to bring some of their exceptional skills and abilities to this event representing the national side should they want to match Mokoena’s talents.
He received the title of Footballer of the Season at the 2022/23 Premier Soccer League awards, recognising his significance for his club team, and if South Africa is to make any success at this AFCON competition, his contribution will be as crucial.
Prior to this season, Guirassy, a formidable forward, was relatively unknown outside of Guinea, Germany, and his birth country of France. However, his exceptional performance at VfB Stuttgart has rapidly elevated his status, making him a highly coveted player in Europe at the age of 27.
Prominent clubs such as Man Utd, Arsenal, and West Ham have expressed interest in signing him, and his pricing for any time goalscorer at the top online UK bookmakers in 2024 has lowered as a result.
Guirassy has scored an impressive 19 goals in 16 games this season, thus making him a bettor’s delight. More interestingly, his release clause is budget-friendly at €17.5m (£15.2m), attracting interest from numerous EPL clubs. A strong performance in the Ivory Coast could further enhance his negotiating position when contract offers are made.
His amalgamation of meticulous goal-scoring, instinctive positioning, and formidable physical prowess has seen him become a formidable adversary for Bundesliga defenders, and he may soon be instilling fear in Premier League players as well after he has reportedly turned down initial interest from Man Utd.
After beginning his career with the Algerian club ES Sétif and then moving to Switzerland to play for Lugano, Amoura’s career has flourished with the Belgian team Union Saint-Gilloise. Since joining the squad last summer, the versatile attacker has already netted an impressive 13 goals in 15 domestic matches.
Amoura has demonstrated exceptional speed and a talent for exploiting gaps in both central and wide areas. Throughout the season in the Pro League, he has consistently outmanoeuvred defenders. It is quite likely that, while playing with fellow countryman Riyad Mahrez, Amoura will continue to be as impactful in the AFCON tournament.
A prominent tournament will bring significant attention to him, and it is likely that scouts, particularly those from Brighton & Hove Albion, are eagerly anticipating this opportunity. This is particularly noteworthy because Tony Bloom, the owner of Brighton & Hove Albion, is also the CEO of Union SG.
Regrettably, if Banda’s name seems familiar, it is likely due to him being one of the Lecce players who experienced racial abuse from Lazio supporters at the start of 2023, resulting in a section of the Stadio Olimpico being shut down by the FAI. Fortunately, he has started to narrate his own narrative in Serie A football, which revolves around a skilled player rapidly reaching his full potential.
Banda is a diligent and industrious player positioned on the left wing. He can tirelessly traverse the flank with a seemingly endless gas tank, displaying almost boundless energy for 90 minutes. Not only is he proficient in dribbling, but he also excels in tackling. Additionally, Banda will frequently reach the byline and effectively intercept perilous passes in front of his own full-backs.
The 22-year-old’s performance in the attacking third is not yet at the highest level, but his six-goal contributions this season are commendable. Moreover, there has been noticeable progress in his skills over the last year, and he has the potential to achieve even greater success in the future and become a top footballer.