SFG’s AFCON 2021 best group stage XI
Undoubtedly the most unorthodox goalkeeper at this tournament. His style has made him fascinating and refreshing to watch. His performance against Algeria was outstanding.
His equaliser from the free kick against Gabon showed the kind of quality he can give his team, and when they really needed it most. That goal came from the video analysis room where they had spotted Gabon goalkeeper Jean-Noel Amonome’s tendency to move to the left before a free kick, and Hakimi had the quality to execute the plan to perfection. The Morocco team under Vahid Halilhodzic is about the collective but in Hakimi they have a world class player.
Bruno Ecuele Manga
The Gabon skipper has been imperious at the back, especially in aspects of defending he has always excelled at: aerially commanding his penalty area and being alert on the ground. He has won 93% of his aerial duels at the tournament, more than any player so far.
One of the best backs-to-the-wall centre backs Africa has to offer. Egypt haven’t needed him in that sense but he has been typically solid at the back, relishing the physicality that some defenders can shy away from. He is the leading centre back when it comes to defensive duels won, having won 84% of them. Egypt will need this excellence to continue in the knockout stages.
His piercing runs down the left have been a feature of Ivory Coast’s attacking play. He has sustained that energy down the left flank throughout the games and in every game. It comes as no surprise, then, that he is the defender with the highest number of progressive runs (4.59 per 90 minutes) in the tournament. The left back can make a convincing case that he is the player of the group of the stage.
Leading the tournament with 32 ball recoveries and nine successful suggests you’re doing your job perfectly as a defensive midfielder. Ndidi hasn’t put a foot wrong, reinforcing his reputation as one of the best defensive midfielders as the Super Eagles have soared.
Jean Michael Seri
The man who makes the Ivory Coast team tick. Jean Michael Seri has come of age at this tournament, his range of passing making him the controller of play and the man in charge of finding those ahead of him. Out of possession, the pint-sized midfielder has shown the deceptive sturdiness to reclaim the ball with aggression and the positioning to intercept.
He has suffered 15 fouls, more than any player in the tournament. He hasn’t won many admirers for what many deem theatrics, but a team of Equatorial Guinea’s calibre wouldn’t have derailed Algeria without the grit, drive and enterprise of Iban. He was particularly impressive in their win over Sierra Leone where his quick-thinking saw an assist for the winning goal and he recorded 5 ball recoveries in the opposition half.
A scintillating outing versus a poor Mauritania may be the last we have seen of Khazri after he contracted Covid-19. He made a mark in this edition of the competition with one of the best individual displays where he was involved in all four goals – scoring two, assisting one and pre-assisting one, not to mention the hard yards off the ball to help his team.
He has lit up the tournament in what feels like every time he has touched the ball. The winger has attempted 29 dribbles at the tournament, more than any other player. The opposition he has faced hasn’t been the strongest but sides will need to contain Simon if they are to stop Nigeria.
Five goals to his name so far makes him the leading goalscorer, and with one or two more goals he should be well on his way to collecting the award. Aboubakar has always played with the fearlessness of a man on a mission, and so far at this tournament he has shown his intention is to fire his country to glory.
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