Salah, Mane, Ziyech, Khaoui - which African star will light up Russia 2018?

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Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane lead a sparkling cast of African talent heading to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Eighteen years have passed since Pele's infamous deadline, with few instances of genuine success to celebrate.

The Brazil great proclaimed an African nation would win the World Cup before 2000 but, heading into Russia 2018, no team from the continent has progressed beyond the quarter-finals.

In 2002, Senegal emulated Cameroon's 1990 exploits of beating the reigning champions in their first game and reaching the quarter-finals, while Ghana might have gone one better in 2010 but for a combination of Luis Suarez's pantomime villain act and penalty shootout heartbreak against Uruguay.

There is fresh hope one of Africa's five representatives can at least match these efforts in Russia. With the help of Opta data, we look at four men shouldering the hopes if their nations.

MOHAMED SALAH (EGYPT)

All eyes will be on Salah ahead of Egypt's Group A opener against Uruguay, with the Liverpool superstar facing a race against time to recover from the shoulder injury he suffered in the Champions League final.

That tear-stained departure against Real Madrid was an ill-fitting conclusion to a career-defining spell from the former Roma forward.

Salah's total of 44 goals is the best debut season return of any man in Liverpool history and he is the first Premier League player to break 40 since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007-08. Only Lionel Messi (45) managed more in Europe's top five leagues this term.

The 25-year-old's 32 league goals – 25 courtesy of his magical left foot – are the most scored in a 38-game campaign in England's top flight.

SADIO MANE (SENEGAL)

Alongside Salah and Brazil's Roberto Firmino, Mane forms part of Liverpool's fearsome attacking trio.

All three men reached double figures in the Champions League in 2017-18, with Mane becoming the first African player to score in the final since Didier Drogba in 2012.

Domestically, the former Southampton favourite hit double figures for a fourth consecutive season in the Premier League.

HAKIM ZIYECH (MOROCCO)

A creative maestro for Ajax who will try to unpick Spain and Portugal in Group B, Ziyech topped the Eredivisie's assists chart with 15 this season.

His 143 chances created in the Eredivise were the most this decade.

But the 25-year-old is not always looking for the pass – his 165 shots are 21 more than any other player in the Dutch top flight in 2017-18.

Underlining Ziyech's enviable variety of talents, only NAC Breda's on-loan Manchester City playmaker Manu Garcia had more successful dribbles (118) than his 115.

SAIF-EDDINE KHAOUI (TUNISIA)

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Troyes might have suffered relegation on the final day of the Ligue 1 season but Tunisia's Saif-Eddine Khaoui was their shining light.

He was his club's top-scoring midfielder with five, only behind Adama Niane (eight) and Suk Hyun-jun (six) overall.

Khaoui's seven goal involvements were only bettered by Niane in Troyes colours, while his 31 chances created came in just shy of the 33 laid on by the Monaco-bound Samuel Grandsir.

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