African World Cup stars
Pele’s infamous prediction that an African nation would win the World Cup before the year 2000 didn’t come to pass, but the strength in depth on the continent is currently better than it’s ever been. In this slideshow, we pick out eight stars from the five qualified countries who could earn moves to the Premier League after this summer’s tournament in Russia…
Keita Baldé (Senegal)
A similar player to team-mate Sadio Mané, Baldé will be a must-watch attacker at the 2018 World Cup. The 23-year-old arrived at Monaco from Lazio last summer and turned in some terrific performances, scoring eight goals and registering five assists in 23 Ligue 1 starts.
Keita possesses flair, agility and lightning speed, attributes which allow him to make sharp turns on the ball. The former Lazio man features primarily as a left winger, but he’s capable of being deployed anywhere across the forward line thanks to his quality with both feet.
Would suit: Arsenal, Liverpool
Younes Belhanda (Morocco)
Southampton’s Sofiane Boufal was unsurprisingly overlooked for Morocco’s World Cup squad by manager Hervé Renard after an inconsistent season with the Saints. Yet even in his absence, Morocco have enough creativity within their ranks thanks to the likes of Belhanda.
A Ligue 1 winner with Montpellier in 2011/12, the 28-year-old was an important player for Galatasaray last season, pulling the strings in midfield and contributing three goals and eight assists in his team’s title-winning campaign. Known for his passing ability and close control on the ball, he could play his way into the shop window in the coming weeks.
Would suit: West Ham, Wolves
Oghenekaro Etebo (Nigeria)
Etebo’s profile grew after a fine individual performance in Las Palmas's 1-1 draw against Barcelona in March. The midfielder covered every blade of grass on the pitch, working tirelessly to keep his side compact while also pushing forward to break past Barça’s press.
The 22-year-old arrived in the Canary Islands on loan from Portuguese side Feirense in January, as manager Paco Jemez aimed to introduce a new dynamic to his side’s midfield. Expected to be a key man for the Super Eagles this summer, he could become a more recognised name in England next term following Las Palmas’ relegation.
Would suit: Crystal Palace, Huddersfield, Newcastle
Mahmoud ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan (Egypt)
Mohamed Salah is Egypt’s undisputed main man, but the concerns over the Liverpool forward’s fitness might be allayed by the presence of Trezeguet. No, not that one, but Mahmoud Hassan (right, with Salah), who was exceptional for Turkish side Kasimpasa in 2017/18.
On loan from Anderlecht, the Egyptian scored 13 league goals and assisted six for Kasimpasa last season, ranking him among the country's most productive players. Hassan is set to be deployed as a left-sided attacking midfielder in Hector Cuper’s 4-2-3-1 system, and his trickery and neat link-up play could interest several English outfits.
Would suit: Watford, Southampton, West Ham
Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia)
Khazri could earn a Premier League return if he’s able to follow up his excellent domestic season at Rennes with a strong showing at the World Cup. The Tunisian was inconsistent at Sunderland, often going missing in games and failing to create quality chances; loaned to Ligue 1 side Rennes following the Black Cats' relegation to the Championship, he duly rediscovered his form.
The 27-year-old scored nine goals and carved out two assists en route to a fifth-place finish, marking Rennes' first European qualification since 2012. After Sunderland’s second successive demotion, Khazri will undoubtedly be on the move this summer.
Would suit: Newcastle, Watford, Southampton
Moussa Konaté (Senegal)
Having played a major role in the surprising mid-table finish of minnows Amiens in Ligue 1, Konaté is now on the radars of Premier League clubs ahead of the World Cup.
The 25-year-old attacker bagged 13 league goals last term, two of which came in a hard-fought 2-2 draw with PSG, against whom Konaté grabbed the man-of-the-match award. He’s a fine header of the ball and, with the likes of Baldé and Mané alongside him this summer, has at least two quality suppliers of aerial ammunition.
Would suit: Bournemouth, Brighton, Crystal Palace
Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal)
The Senegal international has been a consistent performer in Napoli's defence ever since arriving at the club from Belgian side Genk in 2014. The 26-year-old centre-half has been a key part of a side that consistently improved each season under manager Maurizio Sarri.
A commanding presence in the heart of the backline, Koulibaly is tough in the tackle and dominant in the air. He’s superb with his feet too, routinely collecting the ball from the goalkeeper and looking to build attacks for his team. Chelsea could renew their interest after failing to land him last summer – but they won’t be alone.
Would suit: Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United
Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)
Coming off the back of another superb season at Ajax, Ziyech is widely expected to be the star of Morocco’s World Cup campaign. The 25-year-old playmaker led Ajax to the Europa League final in 2017 but somehow remained in Amsterdam for another year despite his superb showings.
Having replicated that form in 2017/18, scoring nine goals and setting up 15 more, he’s almost certain to secure a big-money transfer this summer. An brilliant dribbler, passer and set-piece taker, he’d make an excellent addition to most Premier League sides.
Would suit: Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham
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