It is for a reason that football is the most popular sport in nearly every African country, with the continent producing stars of top-most quality over and over again. Despite an African nation never lifting the trophy, different African players have shone and lit up the past 20 editions of the FIFA World Cup and have mesmerized fans across the globe with their skills, drive and eye for the spectacular. Here, we list down 5 African players to look out for at the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
After all, who can forget the dance, the smile and the goals as the then 37-year-old Roger Millia lit up the World Cup in 1990 as the Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions almost went all the way to the final during a memorable tournament run.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia is expected to be no different with as many as five African countries – Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria, Senegal and Morocco – having qualified to be a part of this summer’s showpiece event.
5 African players to look out for at the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia:
1. Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah will most certainly be the African player who will catch most eyeballs at the upcoming summer World Cup in Russia. The former Chelsea and AS Roma player has been in such inspired form this season that he is now being referred to as ‘The Egyptian Messi’ and rightly so. Salah’s stats and numbers are second to none as he has made a habit of scoring goals for fun for Jurgen Klopp’s side in the current campaign. The Egyptian winger was also the top scorer for his country with five goals during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification, including both goals in the decisive 2–1 victory over Congo, one of which was a penalty in the last minute to make the Pharaohs reach their first World Cup finals since 1990. Salah will head to Russia as one of the form players and will carry his nation’s hopes of going deep in the tournament.
2. Sadio Mane (Senegal)
Part of Liverpool’s devastating attacking trio including Salah and Firmino, Sadio Mane will be at the forefront of Senegal’s challenge at the fast approaching World Cup this summer. Despite not being at his lethal best this season, Mane has still managed 13 goals and 7 assists in all competitions for The Reds and his pace on the flanks has troubled the very best of Europe’s top defenders. As demonstrated by his recent Champions League hat-trick against FC Porto, Mane has the rare ability to rattle any opposition defence on his day. The Senegalese winger has a decent record of 14 goals in 47 appearances for his country and will have to be at his very best if they are to make an impact at their first tournament appearance since 2002.
3. Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal)
Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the few footballers of African origin who was born in France but chose to play for their country of origin, which in his case is Senegal. During his time in Naples, the 6ft 5in tall centre-back has quickly developed a reputation for being an absolute menace for most centre-forwards and is a rock in coach Maurizio Sarri’s defence at Napoli. Koulibaly won 1.78 tackles, 2.11 aerial duels, made 2.33 interceptions, 0.98 blocks and also made 4.48 clearances for every 90 minutes played in the Serie A last season – numbers which truly reflect his brilliance. Like Mane, Koulibaly will also have to play a crucial role if Senegal are to mount a serious challenge at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and will certainly be one of the top African players on show at the showpiece event this summer.
4. Keita Balde Diao (Senegal)
AS Monaco’s Keita Balde is yet another Senegalese name on this list. Having started his youth career at Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, Balde made a name for himself with his performances for Italian side Lazio’ senior time between 2013 and 2017 before signing for Principality club AS Monaco last summer, where he has scored 8 goals and provided 9 assists in the ongoing campaign. Predominantly a left-sided winger, the 22-year-old Balde will also head into the World Cup in Russia as one of the most exciting prospects in world football and certainly possesses the talent to shine at the tournament. Balde will be entrusted with the responsibility of sharing his country’s goal-scoring burdens with Sadio Mane and leading Senegal into the knockout stages of the FIFA World Cup.
5. Victor Moses (Nigeria)
Victor Moses was a shocking omission from the CAF African Player of the year final shortlists in 2017 and also missed out on the BBC African footballer of the year which went to Egypt’s Mohamed Salah. But the Chelsea wing-back had a brilliant 2016/17 season and was a major contributor to Antonio Conte’s side’s Premier League win last May with his marauding performances on the right. This season, Moses remains a key member of the Chelsea team owing to the drive, dynamism and solidity that he has consistently shown for the Blues. In the green of Nigeria’s Super Eagles, Moses’ tenacity and dribbling skills have been put to great use further forward as a winger. He was instrumental in Nigeria’s World Cup qualification campaign, scoring three goals and laying on an assist. Victor Moses rounds off our lit of the top five African players to look out for at the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Notable Mentions – Medhi Benatia (Morocco), John Obi Mikel (Nigeria), Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia), Abdallah Said (Egypt)