With less than six hours before the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off, Ghanafans take a look at the best eleven players from Africa in Russia.
Essam El-Hadary (EGYPT)
The third most-capped Egyptian player in history is set to make his first appearance at the World Cup. A veteran with more than 15 club trophies; including the CAF Champions League and the Egyptian Premier League. El-Hadary also boasts of four AFCON titles, making him one of the most decorated keepers in African football history.
Nabil Dirar (MOROCCO)
The winger-turned-fullback has been a revelation under Herve Renard. He plays a key part in Morocco’s system: offering width in attack and providing assists via crosses. Dirar contributed four goals and eight assists for his club side Fenerbahce. Expect lightning-quick overlapping for Morocco in Russia.
Medhi Benatia (MOROCCO)
One of the best centre backs in African and world football. The Juventus man stepped up this season to replace the departed Leonardo Bonucci. Benatia has a stellar club record; playing for the likes of Bayern Munich, Juventus and Roma. The captain of the Atlas Lions has a huge job to silence the likes of Ronaldo and Diego Costa in Russia.
Kalidou Koulibaly (SENEGAL)
The 6’4” centre back is a huge part of Senegal’s team. He commands the defensive line and defends on the front foot, allowing attackers no space on the ball. The Napoli man has been in stellar form this season. His outstanding performances at the back helped Napoli secure 2nd place in Serie A this season. Lewandowski, Falcao and Okazaki have a huge obstacle in their way if they want to beat Senegal.
Achraf Hakimi (MOROCCO)
The third Moroccan in our backline merits this place. The Real Madrid youngster broke into the team this season in the absence of Dani Carvajal. Hakimi even marked his debut season with a goal at the Bernabeau. Renard shifted the youngster from right-back to left-back and he’s flourished in Morocco’s system providing width for Hakim Ziyech to operate on the inside. A tasty battle against Bernardo Silva awaits the young lion in Russia.
Idrissa Gueye (SENEGAL)
He covers every blade of grass at Goodison Park. The midfielder has benefited from the coaching under Sam Allardyce this season. He has improved massively and refined his game as a midfielder. Gueye will anchor the midfield for Senegal in Russia, seeking to prevent James Rodriguez and Keisuke Honda from wreaking havoc in the final third.
Wilfred Ndidi (NIGERIA)
A frightening blend of defensive guile and technical ability, Ndidi stands out as one of the best youngsters in the Premier League. Initially brought in to replace N’golo Kante, the midfielder has developed his all-round ability and is a formidable opponent in the center of the park. Watch out for his long passes during Nigeria’s counter attacks.
Mohammed Salah (EGYPT)
What else is left to say about this man? If breaking the record for most goals in a Premier League season is not enough, maybe 10 Champions League goals will change your mind. The forward has won so many accolades this season, a strong showing at the World Cup almost guarantees a spot on the Ballon D’or podium. Russia, here we come!
Wahbi Khazri (TUNISIA)
Tunisia’s hopes at this year’s World Cup fall unto this man’s shoulders. Msakni’s injury came at the worst possible time for the Carthage Eagles, but if anyone can step up to replace him, its Khazri. After poor season at Sunderland, Khazri bounced back at Rennes with nine goals and two assists. Khazri has shown some fine form in Tunisia’s warm-up games; England and Belgium should really take notice.
Sadio Mane (SENEGAL)
15 league goals and 10 in the Champions League are no easy feat for a Winger, but Sadio Mane has consistently been hitting these numbers at Liverpool. He has become one of the world’s best attackers and a supposed move to Real Madrid was even on the cards. Senegal’s talisman will need to show just how good he is on the world stage against the likes of Lewandowski and Falcao.
Khalid Boutaib (MOROCCO)
He was the joint-second highest scorer in CAF qualifying. The Moroccan striker hit four goals to secure his teams place in Russia. He has not been that bad at club level either, netting 12 goals for Malatyaspor this season. His finishing and aerial ability will certainly be a handful for some of the world’s best defenders including Pepe and Sergio Ramos.
Herve Renard (MOROCCO)
Two AFCON titles with Ivory Coast and Zambia make this man one of the best coaches on the continent. His brand of attacking football and tactical ability make him a standout at any tournament. Expect a few surprises from the Atlas Lions at this World Cup.