Four African youngsters to watch on the road to Qatar

  • We spotlight four exciting young Africans

  • A Nigerian wants to emulate Didier Drogba

  • A Malian, Senegalese and Zambian feature

Malian Seydou Keita of Mali and Nigerian pair John Obi Mikel and Kelechi Iheanacho are shining examples of how – regardless of whether you win the adidas Golden or Silver Ball – you can use the FIFA U-17 or U-20 World Cups as springboards to even greater things in senior football. With the second round of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ underway in Africa, has picked out four players who have taken part in FIFA youth tournaments and are well on the way to imitating their illustrious predecessors. Patson Daka 27 caps, 7 goals for Zambia Age: 22 Position: Forward Club: Leicester City Daka made a name for himself at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea 2017. After coming to prominence in the CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations Cup that year, scoring four goals and helping to fire his country to victory, the Kafue-born striker then carried his form over on to the world stage in the same age category. With two goals and as many assists, he helped Zambia through to the quarter-finals in Korea Republic – a first for his country at a FIFA tournament. Four years on and the forward has moved from promising youngster to the man on whom so much expectation rests. He is by far the stand-out player in a team still looking to grace the World Cup for the first time. Having been voted best player in the Austrian Bundesliga in 2020/21 after bagging 27 goals in 28 matches for Red Bull Salzburg, Daka decided to make the move to the Premier League with Leicester City last summer in the hope of adding to his experience and improving on his already considerable talent.

SUWON, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 05:  Patson Daka of Zambia celebrates after scoring his teams first goal during the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017 Quarter Final match between Italy and Zambia at Suwon World Cup Stadium on June 5, 2017 in Suwon, South Korea.  (Photo by Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Cheick Doucoure 7 caps for Mali Age: 21 Position: Midfielder Club: Lens The FIFA World U-17 Cup India 2017 proved to be the coming of age for England’s golden generation, led by the likes of Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho, who steered them to the title. However, they were far from the only burgeoning talents on display. Mali defensive midfielder Cheick Doucoure was among the best of the rest, putting in seven faultless displays and contributing two assists as his country upset the odds to reach the semi-finals. He has proven to be every bit as crucial this season in Lens’ excellent start to the season, which has seen them hanging on to Paris Saint-Germain’s coat-tails at the top of Ligue 1. Despite his young age, he has established himself as the key man in midfield both for club and country, becoming one of the first names on national coach Mohamed Magassouba’s team-sheet. He is currently out of action due to an ankle injury, which could hamper Mali’s progress when they face Kenya in their quest to maintain top spot in Group E.

Cheick Oumar Doucoure of Mali controls the ball

Victor Osimhen 12 caps, 7 goals for Nigeria Age: 22 Position: Forward Club: Napoli Victor Osimhen certainly lit up the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015, finishing as top scorer with ten goals – a record that stands to this day – as Nigeria lifted the trophy. "Didier Drogba is my role model. He represents the type of player and person that I would like to become,” he said at the time. “I hope I pick up his ball-control skills and his knack for scoring important goals. He’s an absolute icon, a legend. I’d like to be able to play like him – or maybe even better!" Six years on, Osimhen is still a long way away from having the career that the Côte d’Ivoire star enjoyed, but the Super Eagle is certainly proving his worth in front of goal. He joined Napoli at the start of last season and took a couple of months to settle, but once the New Year had been rung in, the goals started to flow and Osimhen ended up scoring four in six matches in 2020/21. He and Kelechi Iheanacho have also come to form a dynamic duo up front for Nigeria.

Pape Matar Sarr 2 caps for Senegal Age: 19 Position: Midfielder Club: Metz Senegal midfielder Pape Matar Sarr got the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019 off to a flying start with three goals, two of them in one match against the Netherlands. Unfortunately for the Young Lions of Teranga, Pedri’s Spain brought them crashing back down to earth in the Round of 16. Sarr is continuing to bloom two years on, however. The versatile midfielder was one of the revelations of the 2020/21 Ligue 1 season, which earned him a move to Tottenham Hotspur last summer, only to be loaned back to Metz, the club where he had made his name. Sarr is yet another in a long line of youngsters to emerge via the pipeline linking Generation Foot – a Senegalese club known for its youth development – and Metz, following in the footsteps of other Senegal stars such as Papiss Cisse, Diafra Sakho, Sadio Mane and Ismaila Sarr.