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Africa Cup of Nations

Afcon 2019: Top five breakout stars of the Africa Cup of Nations

04:44 GMT+3 22/07/2019
Youcef Belaili, Lamine Gassama
Ed Dove reveals his top five breakout stars from the Africa Cup of Nations

  • South Africa's forward Lebogang Maboe (L) fights for the ball with Ivory Coast's defender Wonlo Coulibaly during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations

    Wonlo Coulibaly

    Not only was Coulibaly the only home-based outfield player included in the Ivory Coast’s Nations Cup squad, but he also started every game, with Ibrahim Kamara giving him the nod at left-back ahead of Stade Rennes full-back Souleyman Coulibaly.

    He wasn't out of place, defending stoutly, looking comfortable in possession, and reading the game well.

    Nobody averaged more tackles per game than the ASEC Mimosas man, who was included in Goal's Team of the Tournament.

  • Joseph Okumu Michael Olunga and Victor Wanyama of Kenya and Harambee Stars.

    Joseph Okumu

    Kenya fell at the first hurdle, and struggled at the back, but at least they identified the future of their defence in 22-year-old Joseph Okumu.

    The USA-based centre-back was somewhat harshly criticised by coach Sebastien Migne after the Harambee Stars’ opening defeat, but there weren't too many central defenders at the Nations Cup who have been more imposing in the air.

    Okumu will have learned a lot from this experience and will come back stronger as a result. 

  • Youcef Belaili Algeria 06272019

    Youcef Belaili

    At 27, Belaili is a little old for a ‘breakout star’, but considering that his profile—at least outside of North Africa—was fairly low-key ahead of the tournament, Belaili fits the bill for this list.

    He started for Algeria ahead of Yacine Brahimi, and demonstrated that he was an ideal foil for fellow attackers Baghdad Bounedjah and Riyad Mahrez as Les Fennecs romped through the group stage.

    Indeed, Belaili was influential in the North Africans’ run to the title, notably scoring the winner against Senegal in the group stage and then breaking the deadlock against Guinea in the Round of 16.

  • Mali's midfielder Diadie Samassekou is marked by Mauritania's midfielder El Hacen EL Id during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations

    Diadie Samassekou

    The Red Bull Salzburg midfielder has been increasingly linked with a move to Olympique de Marseille and AS Monaco in recent weeks, and based on his performances in Egypt, it’s easy to see why he’s courting interest from one of Europe’s biggest clubs.

    No one at the tournament read the game more effectively than Samassekou, who underpinned Mali’s fine draw with Tunisia with a series of fine interventions in the heart of the park, and ended the campaign with an average of 3.7 interceptions per match.

    His tackling qualities have been evident too—he’s averaged 3.3 per match—while weighing in with a goal against the Carthage Eagles and an assist in the 4-1 victory over Mauritania.

  • Ivory Coast's midfielder Geoffrey Serey Die (L) vies for the ball with Namibia's midfielder Joslyn Kamatuka during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations

    Joslin Kamatuka

    Things might have been different for Namibia had Kamatuka been given more playing time under Ricardo Mannetti.

    He finally got his opportunity to start in the final game, against the Ivory Coast, after being picked ahead of Egypt-based forward Benson Shilongo, and responded with the southern Africans’ only goal in the competition.

    In truth, Kamatuka could have had a few more if he’d shown a bit more poise while bearing down on Sylvain Gbohouo’s goal, while his direct dribbling with the ball caused regular problems for the Ivorian backline.