• Pablo Lario

"Mo Salah! Mane, Mane! And...": 2019 Africa Best XI

Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Michael Essien, Emmanuel Adebayor... Emmanuel Adebayor?

Anyway, those are just a few names of the incredible footballers African football has given us. Now, in 2019, it looks like African football is growing, and the same can be said with its players. That's why we decided to make up a team of the best African players, in a 4-3-3 formation. Let's get started.

GK: Andre Onana (Cameroon)

The Cameroonian international was a part of Barcelona's La Masia academy. In 2015, he moved to Ajax and has made over 120 appearances for the Dutch giants. He has established himself as the first-choice goalkeeper for Ajax. Moreover, he was the keeper for the Ajax side that knocked out (and embarrassed) Real Madrid from the Champions League last season. He's athletic, has good positioning sense and is secure when the opposition launches a ball into his box.

To be fair, there is a dearth of really exceptional talent between the sticks to rival Onana and that's why this is one of the easiest choices in the XI (Sorry Kameni and Enyeama). Having said that, Onana is a talented young goalkeeper, with a very bright future.

LB: Faouzi Ghoulam (Algeria)

Ghoulam is, undoubtedly, one of the best left-backs in the world. He's a hardworking defender, is quick and can deliver a really sweet left-footed ball into the box. Even though he has been plagued by injuries lately, he can be described as world-class when in full flow and has 35 caps for Algeria.

He performed exceedingly well in a Napoli side that missed out from qualifying for the Champions League knockout stage by a whisker. He has racked up 166 appearances for Napoli, assisting 27 goals.

CB: Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal)

The Napoli man is by far one of the best defenders in the world, and many top clubs in Europe are looking to add him one day to their backline. The 27-year old has gone from strength to strength in the last 5 years. He's a colossus at the back with brilliant positioning and tackling. He's also unbelievably quick for a man of his size, quite similar to Virgil van Dijk.

He provides solidity to any backline he plays in and is the kind of player that others rely on to rectify or cover up for their mistakes. He has 31 caps for Senegal and has been named the Senegalese player of the year, twice.

CB: Joel Matip (Cameroon)

For the other centre-back position, there are a few options available to partner Koulibaly in the centre of defence. The best being Mehdi Benatia or Eric Bailly. However, even though Matip is not a star defender in the Premier League like a van Dijk or John Stones, he has a terrific ball-playing ability and can launch pinpoint balls to the forwards.

He might make an error sometimes but at his best, he can keep most forwards quiet. He has formed a solid partnership with Van Dijk and has kept out Liverpool's originally assigned third-choice centre-back, Dejan Lovren. Even Joe Gomez is a third-choice centre-back now for Klopp.

Clearly, the Cameroonian was vital in keeping one of the best forwards in the world, Robert Lewandowski, quiet for a full 90 minutes in Liverpool's match against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Thus with the brute strength and pace of Koulibaly and the passing ability of Matip, the central defence is well rounded.

RB: Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)

Hakimi is just 20 years old but registered 17 appearances for Real Madrid in the 2017/18 season. This season, the Moroccan youngster has garnered 43 appearances for a high flying Borussia Dortmund side and 18 appearances for the Moroccan National team.

He could be rivalled for the right-back spot by the Ivorian, Serge Aurier, however, Hakimi is better on the ball and is measured in his defending. Hakimi also provides extra flexibility with his ability to play at left-back. Thus I feel that at their best, Hakimi just edges out Aurier.

CDM: Thomas Partey (Ghana)

Thomas Partey has been, lately, an irreplaceable member of one of the best clubs in Europe, Atletico Madrid. He has made 132 appearances for Atleti and has 20 caps for Ghana. He's equally capable of acting as a shield in front of the defence or as a box-to-box midfielder.

He's an absolute engine, who can run for days. He also has decent speed and acceleration enabling him to join the attack or trackback when required. Another advantage of Partey is his ability to as a right-sided wide midfielder or as a right-back. He definitely beats all his competitors to take the defensive midfielder's role in our team.

CM: Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)

The Moroccan international was on fire for Ajax last season, scoring 12 and assisting 8 in 17 league appearances. He averages a whopping 6.1 shots on goal per match in the Eredivisie.

Ziyech is clearly a manager’s attacking dream. He poses a threat from direct free kicks, and he is also a clinical long-range shooter. That's why is not surprise that Ziyech has been scouted heavily by top European clubs.

The 25-year-old is one of the most creative attacking midfielders in Europe, and so far, his football doesn't seem to stop, having already scored 5 and assisting 5 in 10 Eredivisie games this 2019/20 season. Not bad, isn't?

CM: Naby Keita (Guinea)

Surprise, surprise! It is Keita's time!

He may not have yet settled into life at Liverpool and is not one of the first names on the team sheet, but his ability on the football field has very few doubters. That's why Keita is our third man for this team.

Naby Keita is an explosive midfielder who has unbelievable ball control and dribbling ability in tight situations. He has the ability to pick the ball up in midfield and drive into the opposition box. He has the kind of flair that can light up a game for his side. Keita can also deputize as a holding midfielder, central attacking midfielder or as a left or right-winger. He scored 17 goals and contributed 15 assists in 71 appearances for RB Leipzig.

RW: Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

On the right-wing, we needed to have the Egyptian King Mohamed Salah; yes or yes. Since his arrival to Liverpool in the 2017/18 season, Salah's career has skyrocketed: 36 games, 32 goals, and 10 assists on his first season followed for a number of 38 games and 22 goals next season. And that's just referring to the Premier League!

Salah is a blazing winger, blessed with pace, exceptional ball control, and impeccable footballing brain. He loves to pick up the ball and run at defenders, usually turning them inside out. The two time African Footballer of the Year has 39 goals in 62 caps for Egypt. An absolute monster!

LW: Sadio Mane (Senegal)

If we had Salah, we couldn't miss his Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane.

The Senegalese has been Liverpool's most influential attacking player this season and has had a good season for Senegal as well. He is a pacey winger who can leave defenders on the floor at will. He has the ability to consistently beat his marker, get to the byline and put in dangerous crosses.

Adding to this, his goal output is massive for a wide man. The Senegal captain has 60 caps for his national side scoring 16 goals and assisting another 13. He also has 53 goals in 112 appearances for Liverpool. He has been Liverpool's main man this season, so we cannot wait to see if he's capable to keep this form going.

Striker - Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)

Finally, the Gabon international is the only one from his country on this list. However, his ability and his numbers keep him poles apart from any other African striker. He's tall, has blistering pace and is a ruthless finisher.

Aubameyang made himself known to the footballing community with his performances at Saint-Etienne. He then joined Borussia Dortmund and set the stage alight, earning a move to Arsenal. He made 213 appearances for Dortmund, scoring 141 goals and assisting 36. Since joining Arsenal, he has scored 38 goals and assisted 9 in 59 appearances in the Prem.

Even though he plays for a country that is not considered as one of the big boys in the African continent, let alone the world, Aubameyang still has scored 20 goals in 51 caps.

With Salah, Mane, and Aubameyang leading the attack, the African XI will boast of one of the best attacking trios in the world.

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