The CAF Africa Cup of Nations is set to commence in Ivory Coast, launching with the hosts taking on Guinea-Bissau at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan on January 13. Defending champions Senegal, who clinched victory against Egypt in a thrilling Champions League final on penalties at the last edition in Cameroon. Look to continue their reign. As the tournament unfolds, let’s delve into the top 10 players whose performances are poised to play a pivotal role in determining the trophy’s destination come February 11.

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Champions League Final Star: Mohamed Salah and Egypt’s Quest

The weight of a nation’s hopes and dreams falls squarely on the shoulders of one man, Mohamed Salah, as Egypt aims to secure their eighth continental title. To fulfill this lofty ambition, Salah finds himself in the pivotal role of bearing the brunt of the work for the Pharaohs. Despite Egypt’s historical prowess in the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), the coveted title has eluded them since 2010, and Salah has experienced the agony of defeat in the final both in 2017 and 2021 Champions League Final.

 Transition to a New Era: Salah’s Last AFCON at the Pinnacle

As the AFCON unfolds, this edition may not mark the 31-year-old Salah’s final participation, but it undeniably represents the last tournament where Egypt can boast that their king is still at the peak of his powers. The decisive statistic likely to define Egypt’s aspirations is how many international goals Salah can add to his impressive tally of 53 in just 93 appearances. As the Pharaohs seek to erase the bitter memory of their defeat in the last AFCON final against Senegal, Salah’s performance will be instrumental in ushering in a new era of success for Egypt.

Champions League Final Stellar: Sadio Mane and Senegal’s Pursuit

Although not assuming as defining a role for Senegal as Salah does for Egypt, Sadio Mane remains the linchpin for his nation. His absence from the Senegal team during the Qatar 2022 World Cup was profoundly felt. As the reigning AFCON champions, the Lions of Teranga were considered strong contenders to reach the World Cup semifinals for the first time.

 A Dependence on Mane: Senegal’s Quest to Defend AFCON Crown

Without Mane, the Lions lost their edge, failing to replicate their previous quarterfinal feat. Defeated in the group stage by the Netherlands and subsequently eliminated by England in the round of 16. Senegal’s hopes were dashed without their star player. Mane’s remarkable record of 39 goals in 100 appearances for his country proves irreplaceable, making it clear that Senegal’s ability to defend their crown in the absence of a firing Mane is a significant challenge.

Champions League Final Hopeful: Victor Osimhen and Nigeria’s Ambitions

Victor Osimhen soared to become the most coveted player in global football last season, clinching the top scorer title in Serie A Propelling Napoli to their first league championship since 1990. Despite this remarkable achievement, Osimhen was denied the opportunity to participate in the 2022 Qatar World Cup due to Nigeria’s playoff defeat by Ghana. Now, as AFCON 2023 approaches, Osimhen eagerly anticipates his first chance to showcase his talents on the international stage.

AFCON Title Aspirations: Osimhen’s Pivotal Role in Nigeria’s Quest

For Nigeria to secure their fourth AFCON crown, and only their second in the past 30 years. Osimhen is poised to play a pivotal role, likely contending for the tournament’s leading scorer accolade. The 25-year-old, with an impressive record of 20 goals in 27 appearances. Stands as a beacon of goal-scoring prowess for his team. In a roster brimming with attacking options.

 Osimhen, the 2023 African Player of the Year, faces the task of either leading the goal-scoring charge or shouldering the workload to divert defensive focus. Creating space for his teammates. As Nigeria’s hopes rest on his shoulders, Osimhen’s performance in AFCON 2023 will undoubtedly mirror the resilience and skill that earned him recognition on the Champions League final stage.

 Champions League Final Catalyst: Kudus’ Impactful Debut Season with West Ham

Mohammed Kudus has made an indelible mark on the Premier League. Achieving a rare feat for a player in their inaugural season in England, particularly when transferring from another league. The midfielder’s exceptional performance with West Ham has catapulted him to 12th on the list of goals per minute in the English top flight.

 A noteworthy accomplishment given his role in a team where defensive duties are paramount even for the strikers. In his debut season. The 23-year-old has netted 10 goals in 24 matches across all competitions for the Hammers, showcasing his versatility and attacking prowess.

 Champions League Final Alum: Kudus’ Remarkable Journey from Ghana to West Ham

Kudus’ journey to stardom began when Danish club FC Nordsjaelland brought him from Ghana at the age of 17. A relatively late entry into the modern football landscape. You can also read Champions League Final Star

 Two years later, he was signed by Ajax. Where he impressed over three seasons in Amsterdam and showcased his talent at the 2022 World Cup. As Ghana anticipates Kudus’ continued ascent, his stellar debut season in the Premier League adds another chapter to his inspiring narrative. Reminiscent of the resilience and skill often witnessed on the Champions League final stage.

 Champions League Final Veteran: En-Nesyri’s Crucial Role in Morocco’s Attack

In contrast to the prominent figures of Salah, Mane, and Osimhen, Youssef En-Nesyri emerges as a pivotal player for Morocco. His goal-scoring prowess is likely to determine the team’s fate in the 2023 AFCON. Following Morocco’s historic achievement of reaching the World Cup semifinal in Qatar. Manager Walid Regragui is now on a clear mission to secure victory in the upcoming tournament.

 While their defense, anchored by Sofyan Amrabat, stands as a formidable force. The key challenge lies in boosting the team’s offensive capabilities. With En-Nesyri under scrutiny for his contribution. Despite the 26-year-old’s respectable record of 17 goals in 61 international matches, criticism has surfaced. Emphasizing the need for Morocco to find the net more consistently.

The Balancing Act: Morocco’s Defensive Strength and Offensive Challenges

Morocco’s solid defense, fortified by Sofyan Amrabat, is the team’s stronghold. Yet their offensive output needs enhancement for a successful AFCON campaign. Manager Regragui acknowledges En-Nesyri’s work rate as a crucial element of their success.

 Highlighting the striker’s role in the team’s collective effort. While history, as seen with France in the 1998 World Cup, suggests success without a recognized goal-scorer is possible. The current tournament features exceptional goal-scorers who could potentially tip tight games in favor of their respective teams, leaving the Atlas Lions facing formidable challenges.

Champions League Final Comeback: Onana’s Potential Reckoning for Cameroon

André Onana’s return from international retirement to reclaim the goalkeeping position for Cameroon presents a potential dilemma for the coach and a welcome development for fans and teammates alike. Previously dismissed from the World Cup squad and subsequently announced his retirement. It seemed to signal the conclusion of Onana’s international career, particularly under the management of Rigobert Song.

 A Goalkeeper’s Redemption: Onana’s Crucial Role in Cameroon’s AFCON Campaign

The 27-year-old’s unexpected recall to the squad in September for the AFCON qualifiers was met with surprise. Whether Onana and Song have mended their relationship or not, the ultimate sweeper keeper’s role is poised to be instrumental in determining Cameroon’s chances of success. As Onana seeks redemption and a resurgence in his international career. His performance in the AFCON could mirror the resilience often witnessed on the Champions League final stage.

Champions League Final Maestro: Mahrez’s Leadership in Algeria’s Glory

Riyad Mahrez, the orchestrator of Algeria’s triumph in the 2019 final against Senegal. Led his nation to glory with a captivating performance. However, as the tournament unfolds in Ivory Coast, a repeat of this success seems unlikely. The winger hailed as a magician in the Premier League, played a pivotal role in securing titles with both Leicester City and Manchester City.

 Leicester’s Fairytale and Mahrez’s Al Ahli Journey

Mahrez’s memorable journey includes a fairy-tale run with Leicester City. Where a tightly-knit group of players, enriched with star-studded magic, defied astronomical odds to clinch their first-ever English top-flight crown. This remarkable achievement shattered decades-long records, with the Foxes having only been runners-up in 1928-29. Now, at the age of 32 and representing Al Ahli in the Saudi Pro League, Mahrez boasts an impressive record of 30 goals in 89 appearances for Algeria. Showcasing his enduring impact since his days of Champions League final glory.

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