The Africa Cup of Nations is always a star-studded event, and while that can put a strain on high-profile clubs that lose some of their best players, fans get the chance to watch some of the world’s best in action on the international stage.
A host of top attacking players will be taking part in AFCON 2022, but there are also plenty of goalkeepers, defenders, and midfield maestros who are undisputed world-class talents.
While many of the top stars hail from the Premier League, there are also players from Serie A, Ligue 1, and even the Eredivisie as Europe sends some of its featured protagonists to the competition.
Top 10 players at the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations
10. Achraf Hakimi (Right back, Morocco)
Hakimi has been one of the best young talents in Africa for years now, as evidenced by his 41 international caps by age 23. Earning a big-money move from Inter Milan to PSG this past summer, Hakimi has hit the ground running in Paris, where he has contributed three goals and three assists from his right back position. He has been a fixture in the Morocco lineup over the past two years, and played every minute of the team’s run to the knockout stage of AFCON 2019. Teammate Youssef En-Nesyri will be the beneficiary of Hakimi’s crosses.
9. Kalidou Koulibaly (Center back, Senegal)
The Napoli star made headlines two years ago as a possible high-value transfer target, and he still remains one of the top defenders in Europe. SofaScore has rated Koulibaly as the best central defender in Serie A this season, while WhoScored puts him second. Koulibaly is struggling with a hamstring injury, but was included in Senegal’s squad, suggesting he could be available soon. It’s no coincidence that Napoli lost just one league match until his injury, at which point the club lost three of four during his absence.
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8. Wilfred Ndidi (Defender / Midfielder, Nigeria)
Leicester City, already beset by injuries, will miss Ndidi in the worst way. He is one of the most underrated players in the Premier League, and will be critical to Nigeria’s chances for a successful tournament. Shifted to center back at times, Ndidi is averaging nearly four successful tackles per match and has assumed N’Golo Kante’s mantle as a midfield force with the Foxes. While Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa receive the plaudits in front of goal, it will be Ndidi’s performances that will determine how far Nigeria can go.
7. Sebastien Haller (Forward, Ivory Coast)
While Haller looked mediocre at best during his Premier League spell with West Ham, he is an entirely different player this season and a real candidate for the tournament’s top scorer title. Indeed, he can claim to be in the best form of anyone in the competition, scoring an incredible 10 goals over his six Champions League group-stage matches this campaign, plus another 12 in 17 Eredivisie matches. Look past Haller and you might just miss out on one of the most exciting players in the tournament. He could feast, especially when supported by Wilfried Zaha and Nicolas Pepe in the attack.
6. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Forward, Gabon)
Frozen out of the Arsenal squad and rumored to be pushing his way out, this month Aubameyang will be extra hungry to feature at the AFCON event and remind the world — and Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta — of his value. Aubameyang started the league season slow before his eventual banishment, and the international stage presents a chance for a return to his best. Since November of 2020, through AFCON qualification and World Cup qualification, Gabon is 4W-0L-0D when Aubameyang scores a goal and 0W-5L-1D when he doesn’t, so their tournament hopes hinge entirely on his success in front of goal.
5. Thomas Partey (Midfielder, Ghana)
Thomas Partey has quietly transitioned into one of the most valuable players in the Premier League, and his loss will be felt at Arsenal. Indeed, the Gunners are rumored to be dipping into the transfer market just to cover the month he could be gone. Second among the Arsenal squad in successful tackles and third in successful dribbles, Partey is a true box-to-box talent who can lead Ghana deep into the knockout stage.
4. Edouard Mendy (Goalkeeper, Senegal)
Attacking talent tops this list for obvious reasons, but Edouard Mendy has proven himself one of the best Premier League players since arriving at Chelsea in 2020, and his talent should be on full display in this competition. Mendy helped push Senegal to the final of the 2019 competition, and they’ll have an eye on overcoming the final hurdle this time around. The 29-year-old is statistically-speaking one of the top goalkeepers in the EPL this season, ranked in the top five by both WhoScored and SofaScore, meaning Senegal is getting one of the world’s best at peak form.
3. Sadio Mane (Forward, Senegal)
Liverpool is losing a pair of top attackers, and Sadio Mane prepares to lead a star-studded Senegal squad. Mane has looked tired from overuse at times for Liverpool this season, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Senegal rest him at times throughout the group stage, but the tournament could also provide an opportunity for the Reds star to get back to his best: Mane has scored seven goals in his last 11 Senegal appearances entering the competition.
2. Riyad Mahrez (Forward, Algeria)
The best player on the defending African champions, Mahrez has established himself as one of the most important players on Man City this season and should bring excellent attacking form to the tournament. Mahrez scored a critical goal late in a 2019 AFCON semifinal and should have more important contributions to make this season as Algeria hopes to defend its title.
1. Mohamed Salah (Forward, Egypt)
The star of the show, Mohamed Salah is in spectacular goalscoring form, leading the Premier League in goals. He will hope that form carries over into AFCON, where Salah will be the most prolific goalscorer of any player in the tournament: 45 international goals across 74 caps.
Other players to watch at AFCON 2022
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