epa09357677 Franck Kessie (C) of Ivory Coast in action against Abdulelah Al Amri (R) of Saudi Arabia during the men's soccer group stage match between Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Yokohama, Japan, 22 July 2021. EPA-EFE/KIYOSHI OTA

After the rearranged 2021 Africa Cup of Nations began with a bang yesterday, Oli Coates picks out the tournament’s top five players who ply their trade in Serie A.

The latest edition of the Africa Cup of Nations may have been deprived of one of its biggest potential stars in the wake of Victor Osimhen’s positive Covid-19 test that forced his withdrawal and subsequent return to Napoli.

However, there are still plenty of Serie A stars who could set the tournament alight, and in no particular order, here are five of the biggest to look out for.

Kalidou Koulibaly

Osimhen’s teammate at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Koulibaly captains pre-tournament favourites Senegal. A rock for Napoli and with 53 caps for the Lions of Teranga since his international debut in 2015, the imposing centre-back will play his 300th game for the Azzurri when he returns from Cameroon. Given the Senegalese squad also contains the likes of Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy, Ismaila Sarr and Idrissa Gueye, there’s a decent chance Koulibaly will head back to Naples having raised the AFCON trophy aloft in Yaounde on February 6.

Franck Kessie

Milan midfielder Kessie is a driving force for another of the tournament favourites, Ivory Coast. The 25-year-old is firmly in the shop window with his contract at San Siro expiring in the summer, and former Inter coach Antonio Conte reportedly doing everything he can to take the dynamic player to Premier League club Tottenham. Ivory Coast need their man to be fully concentrated on his permeances on the pitch in Cameroon, and with names such as Eric Bailly, Wilfred Zaha, Nicolas Pepe and Sebastien Haller featuring alongside Kessie, the Elephants are a team to watch over the coming weeks.

Ismael Bennacer

Algeria midfielder Bennacer will turn out against club mate Kessie in AFCON Group E. The 24-year-old has been plying his trade at Milan since joining from Empoli in 2019, featuring 89 times for the Rossoneri across all competitions. With 31 international caps under his belt and Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez captaining the Desert Warriors, the 2019 AFCON champions have a great opportunity to successfully defend their continental crown.

Sofyan Amrabat

Boasting former Inter man Achraf Hakimi in their midst, Morocco are considered one of the dark horses to win the Africa Cup of Nations. The performances of Fiorentina playmaker Amrabat are likely to be crucial to the Atlas Lions’ chances of success. He may be getting far less playing time this season at La Viola under Vincenzo Italiano, but the 25-year-old remains a key figure for his country.

Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa

If hosts Cameroon are to have a chance of lifting their sixth AFCON title and moving to within one of Egypt’s record of seven, they’re going to need big players such as Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Vincent Aboubakar and Zambo Anguissa to be at their best. On loan at Napoli from English Championship side Fulham, the midfielder has made 18 appearances so far this season for the title-chasing Azzurri. It would cap an unlikely double if the Yaounde native can secure top honours for both club and country before his loan spell in Naples comes to an end in the summer.

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