AFCON 2021: Kamaldeen, Hannibal and the young talents looking to impress

By Sports Desk January 08, 2022

We may only be a week into 2022, but the first major international football tournament of the year is on the horizon, with the Africa Cup of Nations kicking off on Sunday.

It's been a long time coming as well – it was initially due to take place in June and July 2021 but was brought forward to January 2021 due to concerns about the weather. It then had to be pushed back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Of course, fans and teams have had to put up with the usual posturing from those at certain clubs regarding the inconvenience of relinquishing players in the middle of the season, but despite that there remains a healthy selection of big names.

In fact, given the standard the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez and Achraf Hakimi usually play at, some might even argue this is one of the highest-quality groups of players to feature at a single AFCON.

But the beauty of every international tournament is that there's more to them than the big names – there are plenty of promising younger players looking to impress for a global audience.

Kamaldeen Sulemana, 19, winger – Ghana

Hold on to your seats! Kamaldeen is sure to ramp up the excitement at AFCON, such is his rather chaotic approach to attacking – and acrobatic celebration. The teenage winger is immensely tricky and agile, with his 246 take-on attempts in the 2020-21 Danish Superliga nearly twice as many as anyone else – to put that into context, only Lionel Messi managed more (261) in the top five leagues. He's carried that into Ligue 1 following his move to Rennes, with his average of one shot involvements from a ball carry every 43 minutes being the second best in Ligue 1 (min. 900 minutes played) after Kylian Mbappe – that's obviously pretty good.

 

Ibrahim Sangare, 24, defensive midfielder – Ivory Coast

While good performances at AFCON alone may not be enough for players to convince big clubs they're worth a punt on, showing promise might just get a few more eyes on them. Sangare is definitely one of those who could put himself 'in the shop window'. The PSV midfielder has a lot about him, particularly when it comes to defending. In this season's Eredivisie, only three players (at least 500 minutes played) have averaged more than his 3.4 tackles per 90 minutes, while he ranks fifth for interceptions frequency (2.5) and third for middle-third recoveries (5.7). He's also technically proficient and happy on the ball, with only three players attempting more passes (81.1) on a per-90-minute basis than him.

Hannibal Mejbri, 18, attacking midfielder – Tunisia

A former France youth international, Mejbri may have only declared for Tunisia in 2021 but this will already be his second international tournament. The Manchester United midfielder started all six of Tunisia's games as they reached the final of the Arab Cup in December, eventually losing to Algeria in the final. Hannibal may not feature quite as prominently in a full-strength squad, but the midfielder possesses the kind of off-the-cuff abilities that endear him to fans – if not opponents. He is known to be targeted for fouls when playing for United's second team, such is his natural talent.

Ilaix Moriba, 18, central midfielder – Guinea

2021-22 hasn't quite gone as Moriba presumably thought it would. He left Barcelona after failing to agree a new contract, despite having broken into the first-team setup at Camp Nou. The midfielder had shown exceptional promise, particularly on the ball – he averaged 3.2 dribbles per 90 minutes, a total bettered by only four team-mates, and boasted a success rate of 89.3 per cent, with only Miralem Pjanic bettering him. The €16million signing has played just twice in the Bundesliga since the move to Leipzig and will surely be relishing some competitive action.

Edmond Tapsoba, 22, centre-back – Burkina Faso

If Burkina Faso go on to have a good tournament, Tapsoba will almost certainly have had something to do with it. The centre-back is an extremely elegant player for someone roughly the size of a small building and whose name sounds like a hipster bar, and at club level he performs a vital function in getting Leverkusen on the front foot, with his 13.5 progressive ball carries in the Bundesliga this term second only to Alphonso Davies. If he can translate that to the international stage, Burkina Faso will have a real weapon in the middle – even if he doesn't, he'll still give them aerial threat at set-pieces.

 

Abdul Fatawu Issahaku, 17, forward – Ghana

The case of Issahaku is a rather intriguing one. Transfer rumours in 2021 suggested Liverpool had signed him for £1.5million, but that soon turned out to be false. He remains in his native Ghana, but the exciting attacker has seemingly done enough to earn a shot at international level despite being just 17 – he's the second-youngest player at the tournament. But he's used to that sort of situation. After all, before he'd even turned 17 in March he was named Player of the Tournament at the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations. While that Liverpool move never materialised, he's got himself another opportunity to shine.

Related items

  • Barcelona considering legal action as Roma pull out of Joan Gamper Trophy match Barcelona considering legal action as Roma pull out of Joan Gamper Trophy match

    Barcelona are studying the possibility of taking legal action against Roma after the Italian club announced they will no longer take part in the Joan Gamper Trophy. 

    The two clubs were set to meet at Camp Nou on August 6, with their respective women's sides also facing off, in a fixture that acts as an annual curtain-raiser for Barca's season.

    However, just 12 days after the friendly was announced, Roma confirmed on Monday that they have withdrawn from the match.

    Roma said in a statement the decision was taken as a result of modifying their pre-season plans to best suit both their men's and women's sides.

    In a strong statement of their own released shortly thereafter, Barcelona hit out at the Europa Conference League winners, who are managed by their former coach Jose Mourinho.

    "Roma have decided to unilaterally, without reason, withdraw from the agreed contract for both parties for the Joan Gamper Trophy," the statement read.

    "The club is working on a finding a new opponent for this year's edition. In the next 24 hours the return of money already spent on tickets will begin.

    "The club wants to make it clear that the suspension of the games has been due to circumstances outside the control of FC Barcelona, the express wish of AS Roma. 

    "The club's legal department is studying possible action against the Italian club for damages caused to Barcelona and its fans due to this unexpected and unjustified decision."

    Barcelona are scheduled to face UE Olot, Inter Miami, Real Madrid, Juventus, New York Red Bulls and Manchester City ahead of the start of the 2022-23 LaLiga season.

     

  • Mariners trade for Carlos Santana after Ty France injury Mariners trade for Carlos Santana after Ty France injury

    The Seattle Mariners acquired veteran slugger Carlos Santana from the Kansas City Royals for a pair of pitchers on Monday, helping to fill the void at first base in the wake of Ty France's injury.

    The 36-year-old Santana is in the midst of a third straight sub-par season, batting .216 with four home runs and 21 RBIs in 52 games, but has shown significant improvements at the plate in the past three weeks.

    After slashing .157/.291./.244 with seven extra-base hits in his first 37 games, Santana has compiled a .367/.492./.592 slash line with two home runs, five doubles and 11 RBIs in 15 contests since June 7.

    An All-Star in 2019 with the Cleveland franchise, Santana's 263 career home runs are the seventh-most by a first baseman since his 2010 rookie season.

    Santana will take over at first for France, who suffered a Grade 2 flexor strain in his left forearm on Thursday and is sidelined indefinitely. 

    France was enjoying a stellar season before his injury, batting .316 with 10 home runs while leading Seattle with 45 RBIs.

    The Mariners, who own baseball's longest active playoff drought at 20 seasons, begin play on Monday in fourth place in the AL East, seven games out of the league's second wild card spot.

    As part of the trade, Seattle sent right-hander Wyatt Mills and minor league righty William Fleming to Kansas City, with the Mariners also receiving cash considerations.

    Santana, who was first traded to the Mariners in 2018 but returned for a second stint in Cleveland 10 days later, is in the final year of a two-year, $17.5million contract.

  • Bale: Los Angeles FC move has come at right time in my career Bale: Los Angeles FC move has come at right time in my career

    Gareth Bale says he has joined Los Angeles FC at "the right time" in his career and is hoping to add more trophies to his haul during his time in Major League Soccer.

    LAFC announced on Monday that Bale has joined the club on a 12-month deal, with the option to extend through to 2024, following the expiration of his Real Madrid contract.

    As part of the deal, LAFC must pay fellow MLS side Inter Miami $75,000 in 2023 General Allocation Money (GAM) in exchange for the discovery priority to Bale.

    The Wales international had been linked with a number of teams, including former side Tottenham and hometown club Cardiff City, but he has opted for a move Stateside.

    And 32-year-old Bale, who is looking to maintain his fitness ahead of Wales' World Cup 2022 campaign in November, believes he has made the right choice.

    "I am extremely excited for this move to LAFC," he told the club's official website. "This is the right place for me and my family and the right time in my career. 

    "I cannot wait to get started working with the team and getting ready to win more trophies in Los Angeles."

    Bale spent nine years with Madrid – including a season on loan at Tottenham in 2020-21 – and won 16 trophies in the Spanish capital.

    However, he made just 21 league appearances combined in his final two campaigns at the Santiago Bernabeu, either side of that Spurs loan, after falling out of favour.

    Bale has continued to prove his pedigree over that time with Wales, most recently playing a key part in the recent World Cup qualifying play-off wins over Austria and Ukraine.

    The Southampton academy product will boost an LAFC side who already lead the Supporters' Shield race, and head coach Steve Cherundolo is delighted with the acquisition.

    "There are simply not many players in the world who can have an impact on a match like Gareth Bale," Cherundolo said. 

    "He can be dangerous in so many different ways, and we expect him to complement what we believe is already a strong team from the moment he arrives. 

    "His knowledge of the game and experience in playing in big games will be invaluable for our club."

    LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington added: "I am grateful to Gareth's management team who helped make this happen. 

    "It's clear Gareth is highly motivated to continue winning trophies and we're elated he has made the choice to join LAFC and help lead us in our goal of winning championships."

    Bale and fellow new signing Giorgio Chiellini are eligible to make their LAFC debuts against the LA Galaxy in El Trafico on July 8.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.