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Players to watch at the 2019 U23 African Cup of Nations

Ahram Online picks five players to watch at the U23 African Cup of Nations, which is hosted by Egypt from 8-22 November

Ahram Online , Thursday 7 Nov 2019
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Owusu Kwabena

Owusu Kwabena
Owusu Kwabena

The 22-year-old forward is one of the few players with international experience, having already featured in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with Ghana last summer.

The pacey winger can be either deployed on the right, left or in a central role. It was his "youth, quickness and precision with his shots at goal" which brought him to Leganes in the first place, as he was described in the statement released by the club upon his arrival in the summer of 2017 on a five-year-contract.

He was loaned to many Spanish clubs such as Real Oviedo, Cartagena and Salamanca CF. He then sealed another loan move to third-tier side Cordoba last August, where he scored four goals in 11 appearances.

The Black Stars' forward netted 25 goals in 102 matches in Spain in all competitions, but hasn't scored any goals with his national team in three games at the Nations Cup earlier this year.

However, Kwabena was the joint top scorer of U23 Nations Cup qualifiers with four goals in three matches.

 

Ramadan Sobhi

Ramadan Sobhi
Ramadan Sobhi

The U23 Egyptian national team skipper played a key role in helping Cairo giants Ahly snatch the Egyptian Premier League title from under the noses of city rivals Zamalek last season following his loan arrival from Huddersfield Town last January.

Sobhi is known for his physical prowess and ability to skip past challengers in one-on-one situations down the left flank.

The 22-year-old came through the youth ranks of Ahly, making his debut in February 2014. His rapid progress saw him join Stoke City at the age of 19 in the summer of 2016.

He hardly made an impact though, scoring three goals in 46 games before joining Huddersfield two years later after Stoke were relegated to the second division.  

He could only make four appearances in the first half of the season before re-joining Ahly in January on a short-term loan stint.

Sobhi made an explosive start to this season, netting three goals in four appearances with Ahly. He has vastly improved his goal-scoring abilities, an aspect of his game which was often criticized.

He won with Ahly three Egyptian Premier League titles, 3 Egyptian Super Cups and a Confederation Cup crown.

Sobhi made his debut with Egypt's senior team in June 2015. He was part of the team's squad for the Nations Cup in 2017 and 2019 as well as the 2018 World Cup.


Azubuike Okechukwu

Azubuike Okechukwu

An experienced skipper, Okechukwu will be hoping to help Nigeria retain their title and qualify for next year's Olympic Games.

The 22-year-old midfielder was a key part of the Nigeria side that won the U23 Nations Cup in 2015 in Senegal before leading them to a third-place finish at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro the following year.

"In this current squad, I would pick our captain (Azubuike Okechukwu) as the most influential because he has always shown courage, commitment and has been a good example to the team," Nigeria's Taiwo Awoniyi said of his teammate, according to CAFonline.com.

Okechukwu is currently on loan at Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir from Egypt's big-spending side Pyramids FC. He played in eight out of Basaksehir's league matches and also featured in all three Europa League encounters.

He is set to miss Nigeria's opening game against Cote D'Ivoire due to club commitments but would be available for the following two matches against Zambia and South Africa.


Christian Kouame

Christian Kouame
Christian Kouame

The striker shoulders the Ivorian hopes of winning the title, thanks to a series of superb displays with Genoa in the Italian Serie A.

The 21-year-old, who is also part of Ivory Coast's senior team having made his debut in a 3-1 home win over DR Congo last month, scored five goals in 10 Italian Serie A games with Genoa, including three in the first four matches.

He also earned plaudits for his abilities to create goals, having provided three assists so far this season.

Kouame is also a versatile player as he can operate as a left winger.

 

Franck Evina

Franck Evina

A solid left-winger who is fondly called  the 'Bavarian Hulk' by local German media for his physical strength skills, and pace, Franck Evina is expected to shine with Cameroon's first appearance in the U23 Nations Cup.

Evina is known for his ability to cut inside from the flank and shoot with his favoured right foot. He also often provides crosses to his teammates from wide positions.

German giants Bayern Munich sent him out on loan to third tier club KFC Uerdingen 05 in the summer transfer window, where he made 15 appearances, scoring 4 goals and providing three assists.

The 19-year-old has been in the ranks of Bayern since he was 7 years old. When he shone with the U17 team by scoring 26 goals and creating 15 others in 48 appearances, he was given the chance to join the first team.

Evina chose to represent Cameroon despite having the opportunity to play for Germany, but he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his idol Samuel Eto'o.

"I’ve always admired him, he is a wonderful striker and I wanted to play like him. The thought of playing for Cameroon just like my role model was too attractive to ignore," Evina told BBC Sport.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

 
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