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AFCON 2023: Five players to watch out for

The Africa Cup of Nations gets underway on January 13, in the biennial battle to be crowned African football’s finest team.

After the rescheduling of the tournament from last summer, Africa’s top teams are preparing to compete for continental success in what promises to be a fascinating month of international action.

Ahead of AFCON 2023, we’ve picked out five players to keep an eye on in the Ivory Coast.

Ousmane Diomande (Ivory Coast)

Ivory Coast are the host nation for the tournament as Les Éléphants look to win a second AFCON title.

The Ivorians boast a squad mixed with experience and potential, with the brightest prospect among their ranks Ousmane Diomande. The centre-back has starred since signing for Sporting Lisbon from FC Midtjylland last January, emerging as one of the most promising defenders in European football.

Diomande ranks second in Portugal’s Primeria Liga this season for touches (1165) and pass completion (91%), while ranking third for passes into the final third (94), percentage of dribblers tackled (83.3%) and progressive carrying distance (2342).

Sporting set a release clause of €80m (£69m) in the 20-year-old’s contract when signing Diomande, a figure top clubs are reportedly already prepared to meet. He will form a strong axis at centre-back alongside Roma’s Evan Ndicka for the host nation.

Serhou Guirassy (Guinea)

Serhou Guirassy’s suitors will be keeping a close eye on developments in the Ivory Coast this month, with the Guinea international one of the most in-demand players in world football.

A stunning start to the season (and modest release clause) has seen the Stuttgart striker catapult himself onto the transfer wish-list of leading clubs across Europe. Guirassy’s goals have fired Stuttgart into Champions League contention after two seasons battling relegation, with only Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe having outscored the 27-year-old across Europe’s top five leagues.

Guirassy has scored 17 goals in 14 league appearances and will hope to transfer that form onto the international stage, as Guinea face Senegal, Cameroon and Gambia in a challenging group.

The forward represented France up to u-20 level before declaring for the country of his parents. He has scored three goals for Guinea since his debut in 2022.

Victor Boniface (Nigeria)

Nigeria’s mixed form has seen the Super Eagles placed as outsiders, despite boasting the most formidable frontline in the tournament.

Victor Osimhen is the star striker in José Peseiro’s plans and was the leading scorer in AFCON qualification, with 10 goals. The Napoli striker is already fourth among his country’s all-time leading scorers, with 20 goals from just 27 appearances.

However, Osimhen won’t be the only threat for the Nigerians, following the emergence of Victor Boniface this season. Signed from Union Saint-Gilloise in the summer, the 23-year-old has been an instant hit at Bayer Leverkusen. Boniface has scored 16 goals and laid on eight assists in 23 appearances in all competitions, for a Leverkusen team unbeaten at the turn of the new year.

Since signing for Leverkusen, Boniface ranks in the top five percent of strikers in Europe’s top five leagues for non-penalty xG, shots, assists, progressive carries, successful take-ons and attacking penalty area touches per 90 minutes.

He made his debut for Nigeria in September and has since won five caps without scoring. If the two Victor’s can click this month, Nigeria will be tough to stop.

Mohamed Amoura (Algeria)

Union Saint-Gilloise have helped nurtue some brilliant talent in recent seasons with the aforementioned Boniface and Brighton winger Kaoru Mitoma among the names to have been nurtured at the Belgian side.

Algerian forward Mohamed Amoura could be the latest to make Europe’s big leagues take note, following a stunning start to his career with the club. The 23-year-old, who was Algeria’s leading scorer in qualification for AFCON 2023 with three goals, arrived in Belgium with a modest goal record but has exploded during the current season.

Amoura has averaged a goal every 66 minutes in the Jupiler Pro League, having netted 13 times in just nine starts this season. The diminutive forward can operate across the frontline and will hope to link up with Riyad Mahrez in the final third.

Bilal El Khannouss (Morocco)

Europe’s leading clubs have checked in on the progress of Bilal El Khannouss this season, with the midfielder dubbed one of Morocco’s biggest talents of recent years.

The Atlas Lions boast arguably the strongest squad in the tournament after becoming the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar last winter, and El Khannouss has added to the quality in their ranks.

The 19-year-old was voted as the best u-23 player in the Belgian Pro League last season, and has forged a reputation as forward-thinking midfield talent.

Among all players in the 14 leading leagues outside of Europe’s top five divisions, the teenager ranks in the 97th percentile for progressive passes per game (8.73) and ranks highly among his positional peers for attempted passes (95th percentile), tackles (88th percentile) and shot-creating actions (88th percentile).

Bilal El Khannouss is a gem among a Morocco midfield that will start as tournament favourites.

Read – Five talking points ahead of the FA Cup third round

See more – The Premier League players with the most big chances missed this season

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