Ten players to watch in Africa

30 Aug 2021
  • African qualifying competition for Qatar 2022 about to get under way

  • Plenty of excitement ahead, with five places up for grabs

  • We focus on ten players likely to shine in the weeks ahead

The African qualifying competition for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ is about to begin, with the first two matchdays taking place in September. The battle between the continent’s heavyweights promises to be an exciting one, not least because the African qualifiers are the most expansive in the globe, with 54 national teams vying for just five places at the world finals.

African football is not short of stars who ply their trade in Europe, and with the start of the qualifiers just hours away we pick out ten who can be expected to light up the road to Qatar 2022.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Salah is widely regarded as one of the best African players currently in Europe and has won a clutch of trophies with Liverpool, including the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League. He was also instrumental in Egypt’s qualification for Russia 2018, a tournament he also graced. A finalist with Egypt at the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, his goal now is to take them to Qatar 2022. He is, without question, one of the players to watch in the upcoming qualifying campaign.

Sadio Mane (Senegal)

Senegal are not short of star performers, but their brightest light is Sadio Mane. The Liverpool forward has won many a trophy at club level and also reached the 2019 CAF Africa Cup of Nations final with the Lions of Teranga. His objective now is to reach Qatar 2022 and, once there, help erase memories of Senegal’s disappointing first-round exit at Russia 2018. Like Salah, he is expected to shine on the continental stage in the next few weeks.

SAMARA, RUSSIA - JUNE 28:  Kalidou Koulibaly of Senegal looks dejected following his sides defeat in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group H match between Senegal and Colombia at Samara Arena on June 28, 2018 in Samara, Russia.  (Photo by Simon Hofmann - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal)

The Napoli man is one of the best defenders in the world. Like Mane, he featured in the side that finished runners-up at the 2019 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Hungry for more success with the Lions of Teranga, he is eyeing a place at Qatar 2022, where Senegal will hope to match the achievements of the class of 2002, who reached the quarters-final in Korea/Japan. Coach Aliou Cisse was a member of that side, and he will be looking to Koulibaly to show his class in the qualifiers.

PORTO, PORTUGAL - MAY 28: Edouard Mendy of Chelsea makes a save during the Chelsea FC Training Session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester City FC and Chelsea FC at Estadio do Dragao on May 28, 2021 in Porto, Portugal. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Edouard Mendy (Senegal)

Mendy has not had it easy on his way to the top. Unemployed after leaving Cherbourg in 2014, when they were in the French third division, he did not have enough money to provide for his family and his pregnant wife. While he looked for a job outside football, he trained in a gym alone or with his brother. Mendy’s luck then changed, as Marseille came in for him, with moves to Reims and then Rennes following. When Chelsea signed him, he won the UEFA Champions League and became a star. Of the keepers in action in the African qualifiers, Mendy will have more eyes on him than most.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City celebrates after scoring their team's first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on November 28, 2020 in Manchester, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)

Algeria’s star man, Mahrez started out with Le Havre before moving to Leicester City, where he teamed up to great effect with Jamie Vardy to help the Foxes win the Premier League for the first time in their history. His next move was to Manchester City, where the silverware has continued to flow. An Africa Cup of Nations crown also came his way with Algeria and he now has his sights set on a place at Qatar 2022. Though Mahrez played just one game for the Desert Foxes on their last World Cup appearance at Brazil 2014, he is sure to have a big impact on this qualifying competition.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 20:  Bernardo Silva of Portugal challenge for the ball with Achraf Hakimi of Morocco during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Portugal and Morocco at Luzhniki Stadium on June 20, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)

Hakimi is one of Morocco’s leading players, along with Hakim Ziyech, who has been dropped for the first two qualifiers by Vahid Halilhodzic. That means all eyes will be on the Paris Saint-Germain star, who was formerly with Real Madrid and Inter Milan and will shoulder the responsibility of leading Morocco to their second consecutive world finals. Eliminated in the group phase at Russia 2018, they will be anxious to make it to Qatar and improve on that performance there.

RIFU, MIYAGI, JAPAN - JULY 31: Franck Kessie #8 of Team Ivory Coast reacts during the Men's Quarter Final match between Spain and Cote d'Ivoire on day eight of the Women's QuarterFinal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Miyagi Stadium on July 31, 2021 in Rifu, Miyagi, Japan. (Photo by Alex Livesey - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Franck Kessie (Côte d’Ivoire)

One of the finest central midfielders in Europe, Kessie forms one half of a formidable partnership with the Algerian Ismail Bennacer at Milan. With Côte d’Ivoire missing out on a place at Russia 2018, Kessie is determined to take them back to the big stage. His poise and power will prove invaluable in a qualification group which includes Cameroon.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 18: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal celebrates after scoring their team's first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on January 18, 2021 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around England remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)

The Arsenal man is one of the quickest forwards in the world and will spearhead a Gabon side that will have to do battle with Mohamed Salah’s Egypt in their quest to reach the world finals for the very first time. One of the biggest African stars currently playing in Europe, Aubameyang is sure to be a big attraction in the continental qualifiers.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Matt Impey/Shutterstock (11944812cd) Thomas Partey of Arsenal Arsenal v Brighton and Hove Albion, Football, Premier League, Emirates Stadium, Islington, London, UK - 23/05/2021 EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists (outside the EU), club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images (+15 in extra time). No use to emulate moving images. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications/services. Arsenal v Brighton and Hove Albion, Football, Premier League, Emirates Stadium, Islington, London, UK - 23/05/2021 EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists (outside the EU), club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images (+15 in extra time). No use to emulate moving images. No use in betting, games or PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTXHUNxGRExMLTxCYPxROMxBULxUAExKSAxONLY Copyright: xMattxImpey/Shutterstockx 11944812cd

Thomas Partey (Ghana)

A very similar player to his team-mate Kessie, Partey broke into the global elite when he made the move to Atletico Madrid, before signing for Arsenal. Though Partey picked up an injury at the start of the season, Ghana coach Charles Akonnor is hoping he will be fit for the qualifiers. Anxious to make up for lost time after the Black Stars missed out on a place at Russia 2018, Partey will be aiming to excel in the weeks ahead.

EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Paul Greenwood/BPI/Shutterstock 11787120cl Naby Keita of Liverpool Liverpool v Fulham, Premier League, Football, Anfield, Liverpool, UK - 7 Mar 2021 Liverpool v Fulham, Premier League, Football, Anfield, Liverpool, UK - 7 Mar 2021 EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTXHUNxGRExMLTxCYPxROMxBULxUAExKSAxONLY Copyright: xPaulxGreenwood/BPI/Shutterstockx 11787120cl

Naby Keita (Guinea)

The Liverpool star is one of Africa’s finest Europe-based players and the man Guinea are hoping will inspire them to their first world finals appearance. The west Africans have a strong squad, with several more Europe-based players in their ranks, though none have the same billing as the talented Keita.