This weekend is critical for teams aiming to reach the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon. With crucial qualifying matches lined up in the next few days, we take a look at the players who make up the continent’s best 11 in our eyes at the moment.
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Goalkeeper: Francis Uzoho (Nigeria)
Nigeria’s 20-year old goalkeeper really came to the fore of world attention in the build up to and during this year’s World Cup in Russia. Uzoho is currently playing for Elche, on loan from Deportivo La Coruna. He has made three appearances in La Liga so far this season, with two clean sheets.
Right-back: Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast)
Serge Aurier has struggled for fitness and form in the time since he left Paris Saint Germain for Tottenham last year. Still, he barely has any competition for the best in his position on the continent. Chelsea’s Victor Moses would have made this selection ahead of him but he retired from international duty for Nigeria after the World Cup.
Centre-back: Eric Bailly (Ivory Coast)
Manchester United’s Eric Bailly is another who is going through a barren patch, as he has only played 19 minutes in his club’s last seven Premier League matches. His talent is not in question, however, and it is just a matter of time before he is displaying it again – at United or another club.
Centre-back: Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal)
Kalidou Koulibaly is considered by many to be one of the very best centre-backs in the world. A rock at the back for Senegal and Napoli, he is reported to be at the centre of interest for the biggest clubs on the lookout for a central defender.
Left-back: Hamza Mendyl (Morocco)
Twenty-one-year old Hamza Mendyl is still establishing himself for country and new club Schalke, but he is undoubtedly one of the rising stars on the continent. He makes it on this list ahead of Algeria’s Faouzi Ghoulam, who has been injured for the better part of the last year.
Central midfielder: Idrissa Gueye (Senegal)
As Everton have shuffled managers and tactics in the last few years, Idrissa Gueye has been a calming fixture in their midfielder. Few can reprise his role in midfield in Africa – and in the world for that matter.
Central midfielder: Geoffrey Kondogbia (Central African Republic)
Valencia midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia made his first appearances for the Central Africa Republic last month, despite the fact that he represented France in the junior teams. He even won five caps for Les Bleus, but all were in international friendlies. He will captain Les Fauves moving now, having already done so in his first two matches.
Right-winger: Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
Mohamed Salah is the reigning African Player of the Year, and rightly so. A whirlwind year with Liverpool in the Premier League and Champions League elevated to him to conversations that include the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. He is on the shortlist for the Ballon D’Or, and a favourite to finish in the top three.
Left-winger: Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast)
Like Kondogbia, Wilfried Zaha changed allegiances to represent the country of his African roots. The fiery Crystal Palace winger has only scored one goal in seven appearances for the Elephants. He has been touted as the best player outside the top six teams in the Premier League, a sentiment that would be hard to refute.
Secondary striker: Sadio Mané (Senegal)
Sadio Mané often plays as a winger from the left for club and country, but is equally comfortable playing anywhere across the front-line. Mané is blessed with lightning speed and trickery, and he is also quite prolific in front of goal.
Centre-forward: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)
Arsenal’s Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is currently embroiled in a row with his national team FA. Nevertheless, he remains his country’s – and the continent’s – most revered out-and-out striker.