10 stars set to light up AFCON

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10. Mo Salah, Egypt

Coming off a stellar season at Liverpool in which his 22 goals landed him the joint golden shoe in the Premier League, helping to propel his team to second in a thrilling title race. While the 26 year-old hasn't always produced his club form in the Egypt shirt, his pace, skilful dribbling and ability to carve chances out of thin air make him the go-to attacker in a team favoured to take out the whole tournament at home.

 

9. Sadio Mane, Senegal

Mane's game is built for tournament football. Pace, power and precision are hallmarks of a player who relishes the opportunity to get in behind the lines. Together with Salah, Mane forms a third of Liverpool's potent attacking front three and will no doubt be relishing the thought of taking on his club team-mate in the defining stages of the tournament.

8. Naby Keita, Guinea

All eyes will be on Keita over the coming weeks, as the Liverpool midfielder fights to overcome an adductor injury that has sparked a difference of opinions between the 24 year-old's club and country. When fit, Keita's biggest asset is his versatility. Equally at home in a defensive role, or operating as a playmaker, Keita's dribbling ability and eye for a pass make him an invaluable addition to the Guinea engine room.  

 

7. Nicolas Pepe, Cote d'Ivoire 

Attacking wide midfielder Pepe notched double digits for goals and assists as Lille finished runner-up to PSG in Ligue 1. Unsurprisingly, the skilful dribbler has been linked with a move away from the French top flight, his manager all but confirming the 23 year-old is off. A glance at his highlights reveals why.

6. Thomas Partey, Ghana

The 25 year-old is among Atleti's most improved players, his ability in one-on-one tackles making him a nightmare for opposing playmakers. The knock on Partey has often been his lack of a killer pass, but his work in improving this aspect of his game has seen him cement his position at the heart of the Atleti midfield. It's no wonder a player compared favourably to Paul Pogba - albeit by his own manager - has caught the eye of the likes of Premier League heavyweights Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal

 

5. Percy Tau, South Africa

The diminutive attacker could dribble his way out of a mosh pit without getting the ball scuffed, such is his ability to evade defenders and create space either for himself or his team-mates. Comfortable anywhere across the attack, Tau is a nightmare for opposing defenders, relishing the opportunity to take his man on. Premier League fans would know a lot more about Tau had a work visa issue not denied him the chance to link up with Brighton & Hove Albion, having signed on last season.

4. Mbwana Samatta, Tanzania

Having risen through the junior ranks at Lyon, the 26 year-old shunned the normal path taken by prodigious football talents, heading back to Tanzania to take up his first professional contract at Simba SC. It wouldn't take the powerful striker long to find his way back to Europe, landing at Genk in 2016 via an accolade-soaked stint at TP Mazembe. Fast, strong and adept at smashing them into the back of the net, Samatta's keenness to get back and win the ball from deep-laying positions, before launching defender-skittling raids into the attacking third, has him net 23 times in 38 games for the league-leader.   

3. Baghdad Bounedjah, Algeria

One of the benefits of Qatar Star League champion Al-Sadd averaging more than four goals per game this season is that Bounedjah got plenty of practice banging them in. He achieved the feat 39 times in just 22 games. Granted, having Spanish passing machines Xavi and Gabi playing you in all day can't be bad for the stat-line, but Bounedjah is also renowned for his ability to carve out his own opportunities with his evasive running and ability to throw off defenders and exploit the spaces in behind. Wily, crafty and lethal in front of goal, Bounedjah was the top scorer in the 2018 Asian Champions League. 

 2. Ibrahim Sangare, COte d'Ivoire

The latest defensive midfield talent to roll off the Toulouse production line, Sangare is a tackling machine who likes to burst forward with his energetic dribbling. While he's a little raw with his distribution, expect to see plenty of the 20 year-old rising star in what is an already stacked Ivorian midfield. 

 

1. Cedric Bakambu, Congo

Capped at junior levels by France, Bakambu's diverse passport includes stops at Turkey, France, Spain and recently, China, where the 28 year-old became the most expensive African player in history, signing a €68 million deal to join Beijing Guoan in 2018. Bakambu hasn't disappointed, scoring 23 goals from 27 Chinese Super League appearances for the club. Fast and skilful, Bakambu conjures images of Sadio Mane.