The delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is due to commence on January 9th, less than a week later. The recently expanded AFCON tournament will have 24 teams participating in it for the second time and is expected to provide much excitement.
The 2019 edition of the competition saw North African giants Algeria emerge as champions, with a young Ismael Bennacer emerging as Player of the Tournament. The Young Player of the Tournament, Krepin Diatta, will miss this edition, having picked up an injury while playing for AS Monaco.
Teams have included top young players in their AFCON squads
With the increase in the quality of young players produced worldwide, it came as no surprise to see a good number of young players being part of the tournament squads, especially ones with European experience. Here is a list of the top five players aged 21 and under who will be in Cameroon for the AFCON tournament.
Guinea have included 20-year-old midfield gem, Aguibou Camara, in their squad. The Olympiakos midfielder has scored four goals and contributed four assists in 14 league games for his Greek club this season.
Camara joined Olympiakos from French champions Lille in the summer, having made himself known as a top prospect in France. The youngster scored within 15 minutes of his Lille debut against Dijon in February 2021, before moving to Olympiakos in the summer.
Camara made his international debut at 18 and has been included in the AFCON squad for his first taste of a major tournament. The youngster is reportedly being tracked by Liverpool and AC Milan. This AFCON tournament will give the diminutive midfielder a chance to further showcase his talents.
Kamal Deen Sulemana
Ghanaian youngster Kamal Deen Sulemana is another who will look to set AFCON on fire. The tricky and pacy winger plies his trade in the French Ligue 1 with Rennes, a club that has had Ousmane Dembele, Ismaila Sarr, and Jeremy Doku on its books recently.
Sulemana has five goals and two assists in 25 appearances for Rennes this season. The 19-year-old joined the French side from FC Midtjylland in the Danish Superliga and was handed the #10 shirt vacated by Eduardo Camavinga.
Sulemana made his debut for Ghana’s Black Stars in 2020 and is part of their squad for this year’s AFCON. The teenage sensation will look to make an impression with the Black Stars in the tournament.
It was no surprise when Mali included midfielder Mohamed Camara in their AFCON squad. The 21-year-old midfielder has made a good impression while playing for Red Bull Salzburg this season in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League.
Camara has played 22 times for his side in all competitions this season, including all six of his side’s UEFA Champions League matches. The defensive midfielder has made three assists for the Austrian side this season. Camara was one of Salzburg’s best players as they reached the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history.
The combative midfielder has been a Malian international since 2019, and has made 10 appearances for his country. Like every footballer, Camara will be looking to move to a bigger league and this AFCON gives him an opportunity to show his skillset.
Manchester United starlet Hannibal Mejbri is likely to be one of the surprises of AFCON after his inclusion in Tunisia’s team for the tournament. The 18-year-old midfielder has played only once for Manchester United but has already made nine senior appearances for the Carthage Eagles.
Born in France to Tunisian parents, Mejbri made his debut for Tunisia in a friendly earlier this year, and has made himself a regular in the side. Mejbri was one of his country’s best players as they marched to the final of the FIFA Arab Cup before losing to Algeria.
The shaggy-haired midfielder is known as a top prospect. He made his Manchester United debut on the last day of the 2020/21 season as a late substitute against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Mejbri has already been acknowledged by new Manchester United boss Ralf Rangnick and is expected to be a key player for the Red Devils in the coming years. Blessed with the tenacity of Roy Keane and the technical brilliance of David Beckham, Mejbri has been earmarked for greatness, and AFCON gives him a chance to show it.
RB Leipzig midfielder Ilaix Moriba was invited to the Guinea squad for AFCON after the 18-year-old decided to declare his future for the Syli Nationale.
Having come through the famed La Masia academy setup, Moriba proceeded to play for the first team at FC Barcelona. The youngster was caught up in the Spanish giant’s financial crisis and was forced to move to Germany for around €14 million last summer.
The midfield prodigy decided to represent Guinea after playing for Spain up to the Under-18 level and was promptly included in their AFCON squad.
Moriba has found game time hard to come by since moving to Leipzig, and this tournament will provide an opportunity for him to show why he is so highly rated. Alongside Liverpool ace Naby Keita and Olympiakos youngster Aguibou Camara, Moriba can help Guinea form a brilliant midfield at AFCON.