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2021 AFCON: Best Players of the Tournament

Enthralling end-to-end matches, controversies, new records and fascinating underlying stories – the 2021 AFCON had all the necessary ingredients of a holistic footballing entertainment package.

Eight-time champions Egypt quite expectedly made it to the final, where they met a team that had never lifted this trophy previously but have shown promise in recent times – Senegal.

For all the nerve-wracking matches this competition produced throughout its duration, the final was a tad cagey affair, since both sides opted to play a calculative waiting game. The two teams could not be separated and deadlock could not be broken after 120 minutes of football, which then called for penalties. 

Egypt are usually known as the kings of penalties, and in this edition itself, they had won two shootouts – against Ivory Coast in the round of 16 and against Cameroon in the semi-final. However, when the stakes were higher their ever before, Mohamed Salah & Co. fluffed their lines as the Lions of Teranga emerged as 4-2 winners. Like always, this edition of AFCON has also unearthed a few fantastic talents, while some world-class footballers have once again justified their worth.

Let us have a look at the best players of 2021 AFCON:

 

7. Gabaski

Arguably the best goalkeeper of the tournament, Egypt’s Mohamed Abou Gabal ‘Gabaski’ was not expected to feature in the playing XI. Portuguese head coach preferred Mohamed El Shenawy with the task of being his team’s last time of defence, but he suffered an injury in the round of 16 tie against Ivory Coast, which led to the rise of the phenomenon that we now know as Gabaski. In his first match of the competition against Ivory Coast, he saved Eric Bailly’s penalty to take his team to the quarter-finals, where he made three saves against Morocco. The Zamalek player continued proving his class as he saved two penalties in the semi-final against Cameroon, while in the final against Senegal, he saved Sadio Mane’s penalty.

 

6. Saliou Ciss

Senegal had a few renowned players in their defensive contingent in the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly and Bouna Sarr, but the 2021 AFCON has given rise to a new star in Saliou Ciss. The 32-year-old left-back, who plies his trade for French team AS Nancy, was influential in defence and also joined the attack as and when his team wanted him to. Ciss put up 24 crosses in the six matches that he played and made seven interceptions.

 

5. Edmond Tapsoba

Another defender who made a name for himself with fantastic performances in this competition is Edmond Tapsoba. The young centre-back from Burkina Faso, who recently turned 23 years of age, showed why many big European teams have been scouting him for a while. Tapsoba started six of Burkina Faso’s matches and barring an isolated occasion or two, he was always highly reliable for his team.

 

4. Issa Kabore

Edmond Tapsoba had an incredible campaign, but he was not the only Burkinabe defender who played a crucial role in the Stallions’ semi-final appearance. 20-year-old right-back Issa Kabore, who plays club football in France got Troyes, also had a campaign to remember. Besides being rock-solid at the back, Kabore also contributed in attack quite often and got two assists as well – one each against Cape Verde in a group stage match, and against Cameroon in the third-place playoff match.

 

3. Idrissa Gana Gueye

Senegal are a flamboyant side – they have superstars in Sadio Mane and Ismaila Sarr who are capable of terrorizing any defence with their tricky and silky footwork. However, history will testify that a flamboyant team can never be successful without an agricultural workhorse, and Idrissa Gana Gueye is that workhorse in Aliou Cisse’s team. The Paris Saint-Germain defensive midfielder created the bridge between the backline and the attacking trio, while he also found the back of the net in the semi-final against Burkina Faso.

 

2. Sadio Mane

Liverpool winger Sadio Mane was seen in his usual rhythm in this competition, giving defenders nightmares with his pace and dribbling. He played in all seven matches for the title-winning side and scored three goals. The 29-year-old found the back of the net against Zimbabwe in the group stage, Cape Verde in the round of 16 and Burkina Faso in the semi-final. He also struck the fifth penalty in the final, which helped Senegal lift their first-ever AFCON trophy

 

1. Vincent Aboubakar

With the likes of Mane, Mohamed Salah, Wilfred Zaha and Nicolas Pepe playing in this competition, not many would have expected Vincent Aboubakar to emerge as the leading goal-scorer, but the 30-year-old proved that he still is as deadly as ever before. The Cameroonian striker, who plays club football for Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr, found the back of the net eight times. Four of those goals came against Burkina Faso across two meetings in the group stage and the third-place playoff, whilst besides that he also scored twice against Ethiopia and got one goal each against Cape Verde and Comoros. 

 

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