Top 10 – They played the Total Africa U-23 Cup of Nations
From 8 to 22 November, Egypt will host the third Total Africa U-23 Cup of Nations. Get ready for the show, as this tournament has proved a springboard for formerly wonderkids who have become football stars. Here is the Top 10.
Mohamed SALAH // EGYPT // Liverpool (ENGLAND)
For those who question the competitiveness of the Total Africa U-23 Cup of Nations, just take a look at Mohamed Salah’s performance in the competition. In 2011, the Egyptian striker only scored once in a semi-final lost to Abdelaziz Barrada’s Morocco. Yes, this Salah, the one we all know, one of the best players in the world, holder of the Champions League with Liverpool, runner-up of the Total AFCON 2017 (he featured in the Team of the Tournament) and a player that no defense can counter. One thing is for sure: he did mature during this tough tournament.
Ismaïla SARR // SENEGAL // Watford (ENGLAND)
He was the only Senegal player to score his penalty during the shoot-out that decided the U23 AFCON 2015 third-place final, eventually won by South Africa. Back then, young Ismaïla Sarr was not even 18 yet. Less than a year later, he was called up with the senior team to show his talent after he was transferred from Metz to Stade rennais. He was the Total AFCON youngest player in 2017 and reached the Total AFCON 2019 final. He was later sold to Watford for €35 M, but he definitely wants bigger now…
André POKO // GABON // Göztepe (TURKEY)
No need to search for too long to find the best period of André Biyogo Poko’s career, who has been playing in Turkey for almost three years now: it has to be the 2010-2011 season indeed. The defensive midfielder won the Gabon league-cup double with US Bitam that year, and moved to Girondins de Bordeaux (the club was advised to recruit him by Gernot Rohr, the current Nigeria head coach) before winning the U23 AFCON in Morocco. He even scored the last-minute winner on extra-time against Senegal, after a tense semi-final. It was a sign for him, as he would later become one of the most important elements of the senior team.
Oghenekaro ETEBO // NIGERIA // Stoke City (ENGLAND)
4 August 2016, Arena da Amazônia (Brazil), Olympic Games. After an incredible match in which he scored no less than four goals in barely an hour, Oghenekaro Etebo made a name for himself by being one of the main actors of Nigeria’s great campaign (they would claim the bronze medal by beating Japan (5-4)). But it was no surprise for those who already knew him. Six months earlier, the Stoke striker, who began with the Warri Wolves before moving to Las Palmas and later Feirense, won the CAF Best Young Player Award 2015. And for good reason: the U23 AFCON 2015 winner also won the tournament’s Golden Boot with five goals, including a crucial brace in final and the only goal of the semi-final. A real match-winner, this one.
Zinedine FERHAT // ALGERIA // Nîmes (FRANCE)
There are at least two Zinedine who are good with their feet on Earth. But unlike Zidane, Ferhat still has hair and has not retired yet. It’s quite the opposite in fact. The Bordj Menaïel born player arrived in France to play for Le Havre in 2016 and is now a Ligue 1 player for Nîmes, but he had already shown his talent on another continent. Back in his home country, he won many trophies, including two Algerian leagues with USM Alger, an Algerian Cup, a Super Cup, an Arab Club Champions Cup, and a Total CAF Champions League. Unfortunately, he narrowly missed the U23 AFCON 2015 title despite his two goals. Algeria lost 2-1 to Etebo’s Nigeria in final. Perhaps he will soon have revenge with the senior team.
Baghdad BOUNEDJAH // ALGERIA // Al-Sadd (QATAR)
He is the Algeria fans’ favourite. He won the Total AFCON 2019, scored the fastest goal of the competition (in final, after less than two minutes against Senegal), scored an impressive 39 goals in 21 matches with the Qatar club of Al-Sadd last season, and actually scored the first goal of the match against Nigeria in the U23 AFCON 2011 group stage. Unfortunately for him, Algeria would be destroyed by the Super Eagles (4-1) in the semis and bid farewell to their dreams of glory.
Lacina TRAORÉ // IVORY COAST // CFR Cluj (ROMANIA)
You cannot miss his 2.03 meters frame. The former Monaco, Everton and CSKA Moskva striker became famous during the U23 AFCON 2011 in Morocco. In the group stage decider against Gabon, he scored the first goal on 30 minutes in his gangling style. It did nothing but hunger the Panthers, who bit the Elephants three times and qualified on goal difference.
Didier NDONG // GABON // Dijon (FRANCE)
In 2011, Didier Ndong should have played for the Gabon U17 team but they were ruled out by Congo in the qualifiers. Coach Albert Mbourounot had flair though and called up the young midfielder to play for the U23 team. He went on as a substitute against Eswatini (Swaziland) a few months before the tournament and scored his team’s third goal to seal a 3-1 victory in Libreville. He never left the squad after that and eventually won the competition in Morocco.
Keagan DOLLY // SOUTH AFRICA // Montpellier (FRANCE)
26 year-old Keagan Dolly is a versatile midfielder gifted with a sweet left foot. He went famous with the Mamelodi Sundowns and won the Premier Soccer League Best Young Player Award, before lifting the Total CAF Champions League 2016. A year before, he shone in the Total U23 AFCON and reached the semi-finals with the Bafana Bafana. He missed his penalty in the shoot-out against Senegal for the bronze medal, but it had no consequence.
Habib DIALLO // SENEGAL // Metz (FRANCE)
This season, it seems like he cannot stop scoring with FC Metz, in Ligue 1, but the great performances of Génération Foot’s former wonderkid is no surprise for the experts as they saw his talent in the U23 AFCON 2015. Habib scored two important goals against Tunisia and Gambia and took Senegal to the semis.