Top five players in 2017 African Nations Cup group stage

Ahram Online compiles a list of the top five performers at the African Cup of Nations group stage in Gabon

Ahram Online , Thursday 26 Jan 2017,
Junior Kabananga

Junior Kabananga (DR Congo)

A last-minute call-up by coach Florent Ibenge, Junior Kabananga turned out to be DR Congo's deadliest weapon in Gabon. The Astana striker, who has been deployed on the left wing - not his favorite position - scored three goals and provided one assist to propel his country to the top of a tough Group C, ahead of second-placed Morocco, holders Cote d'Ivoire, who suffered an early elimination, and Emmanuel Adebayor's Togo.

He scored the winner against Morocco in a 1-0 victory, netted and dished out an assist in the 2-2 draw against Cote d'Ivoire and was on target again in their final group game against Togo, which DR Congo won 3-1, to move top in the list of top scorers.
"I knew that the fans were saying I am not good enough. It was up to me to prove my worth and that's what I did on the pitch," said the 27-year old striker.

Keita Balde (Senegal)

Keita Balde

The new Senegal man has made a major impact in his first international competition, leading Senegal to the quarter finals as winners of Group B.

The 21-year old forward, who plays wide or in a central role, created goals for his teammates and was involved in almost every attacking attempt for the Teranga Lions.

Balde, who came through the youth ranks of Barcelona, is a quick and tricky forward who can beat defenders to strike with either foot. The Lazio player, who made his debut for Senegal in September 2016, is a part of a three-pronged attack alongside Miram Diouf and Sadio Mane, with the trio proving fearsome upfront.

"I am very pleased to be with the team and happy that we are winning. We have to keep working and our target is to win all our matches," Balde said.

Sadio Mane (Senegal) 

Sadio Mane

Mane, who became Africa's most expensive player after joining Liverpool for £35million last summer, made an impressive start to the tournament by scoring twice in three-group stage games to fire Senegal to the last eight.

Part of a three-pronged attack, Mane converted a penalty to set Senegal on their way to a 2-0 victory over Tunisia in their Group B opener before tapping in into an empty net in another win over Zimbabwe by the same scorline.

He was rested for Senegal's 2-2 draw with Algeria after they had already qualified for the quarter finals but his contribution will be crucial for the team in the knockout phase as they aim to win the coveted trophy for the first time in their history.

Youssef Msakni (Tunisia)

Youssef Msakni

Playing in the Nations Cup for the first time since 2013, Youssef Msakni has inspired Tunisia to a remarkable group-stage campaign that saw him reach the quarter finals in a tough group that included Senegal, Algeria and Zimbabwe.

The 26-year old forward, who is on the radar of French clubs Olympique de Marseille and Lille, has scored just one goal in three matches but his contribution is far beyond that.

A tricky dribbler, an accurate passer and a creative forward, the Qatar-based player orchestrates Tunisia's attack, dictates play in midfield and controls the rhythm.

The Carthage Eagles' progress in the tournament heavily relies on Msakni's displays in Gabon.

Denis Bouanga (Gabon) 

Denis Bouanga

Although hosts Gabon suffered a surprising first-round exit, having only collected three points from three draws, winger Denis Bouanga was arguably the only bright spot in their short campaign.

The 22-year-old, who is on loan at French side Tours from Lorient, sparkled on the left flank with his trickery, often cutting inside to bamboozle his opponents.

He was Gabon's best player in a final group-stage game against Cameroon, feeding Emmanuel Aubameyang early on with a diagonal low cross which the striker somehow failed to convert with the goal gaping and hitting the post in stoppage time.

Bouanga also has an assist to his name, having also found Aubameyang for an easy tap-in in the opening 1-1 draw with debutants Guinea Bissau.

He wept at the end of the last group match against Cameroon as crowd boos rang around the stadium, but still left his mark and may well attract the attention of leading clubs in France.

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Group B W D L P
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