Tunisia head coach Mondher Kebaier hit out at referee Janny Sikazwe's "inexplicable" decision to bring an early end to Wednesday's Africa Cup of Nations clash with Mali.

Mali were leading the Group F match 1-0 through a Ibrahima Kone penalty when the Zimbabwean official blew for full-time in the 85th minute.

Kebaier realised his error and play resumed for another four minutes, during which time Mali forward El Bilal Toure was dismissed, before blowing again with 13 seconds to go.

That was despite a number of stoppages in the second half, including a couple of lengthy VAR checks for Kone's penalty and one that Wahbi Khazri missed for Tunisia.

Tunisia officials stormed onto the field to protest, arguing that not only should the remaining seconds have been played, but time should also have been added on at the end.

In incredible scenes, Mali coach Mohamed Magassouba was speaking at his post-match news conference when word emerged that the game would restart.

Around 40 minutes after the game was supposed to have concluded, Mali's players made their way back on the field, but Tunisia's players did not re-emerge from the tunnel.

Tunisia boss Kebaier later explained that his players were not in a position to play the remaining minutes and suggested an appeal will be lodged.

"It's a difficult situation to deal with," he told reporters. "The referee also blew with five minutes left in the first half.

"Then he blew after 89 minutes in the second, denying us practically seven or eight minutes of added time.

"His decision is inexplicable. I can't understand how he made his decision and we will see what happens now."

Asked about events after the game, Kebaier added: "He blew for full-time and asked us to go to the dressing room. The players were in their ice baths when asked to come out.

"In 30 years in this business I have never seen anything like it."

The controversial end to the match meant kick-off in the later game between Mauritania and Gambia at the same ground was pushed back by 45 minutes.

Should the result stand, Mali will be in a strong position to advance into the knockout stages of the competition for the second tournament running.

Giving his side's view on the drama, Mali boss Magassouba said: "These are administrative questions. We were told to go back on the pitch because the game was not finished.

"Unfortunately the opposition team did not want to come back out and the final whistle was blown."

Wahbi Khazri had a second-half penalty saved as Tunisia fell to a contentious 1-0 loss against Mali in their Africa Cup of Nations opener in which referee Janny Sikazwe was at the centre of controversy.

Sikazwe awarded both sides a penalty in the second half and dismissed Mali forward El Bilal Toure before blowing for full-time early to spark angry scenes at Stade Limbe.

After a low-key first half that saw neither side go particularly close, Ibrahima Kone converted past debutant keeper Bechir Ben Said from 12 yards after Ellyes Skhiri blocked Boubakar Kouyate's shot with his hand.

Tunisia, the fourth-highest ranked African side, toiled without truly being able to test Ibrahim Mounkoro in the Group F clash between the sides expected to advance in the top two spots ahead of Gambia and Mauritania.

But the 2004 tournament winners were given a lifeline 16 minutes from time as Sikazwe again pointed to the spot when Khazri's cross hit Moussa Djenepo on the hand, only for the Saint-Etienne striker's penalty to be saved by Mounkoro.

After the referee initially blew for full-time in the 85th minute, play resumed and Mali substitute Toure was shown a straight red card for catching Dylan Bronn, before Sikazwe again brought play to a halt 10 seconds early despite a raft of substitutions and a cooling break.

Pele had a late penalty saved as Sudan and Guinea-Bissau drew 0-0 in their opening match of this year's Africa Cup of Nations.

The spoils were shared following a generally low-key Group D encounter that burst into life towards the end at Stade Omnisport de Garoua.

Chances were few and far between during the first half. The best opportunity saw Joseph Mendes' 16th-minute header hit the post for Guinea-Bissau, who were seeking their first victory in three appearances at the tournament.

Meanwhile, in their first appearance for a decade, 1970 champions Sudan were aiming to record only their second win in 14 matches since lifting the trophy 52 years ago.

Guinea-Bissau were presented with a great chance to take all three points when Ali Aboeshren clattered into Steve Ambri 11 minutes from time.

But the goalkeeper atoned for his error, guessing correctly to deny Pele before Frederic Mendy's rebound crashed against the crossbar.

Mendy then had a shot cleared off the line as the Djurtus turned up the pressure, but their opponents held out for a first clean sheet at the tournament since their 1970 final triumph.

Wednesday sees the last remaining Africa Cup of Nations group get under way, with Tunisia and Ivory Coast set to be the biggest draws.

Both countries have designs on going deep into the tournament and will be eager to make positive starts to ensure they are not playing catch-up.

While Tunisia and Ivory Coast have racked up 44 AFCON qualifications between then, Gambia will be making their bow.

 

Tunisia v Mali (13:00 GMT)

Africa's second-highest ranked nation, Tunisia, are appearing in a 15th successive AFCON this year, setting a new record.

But they have only been beyond the last eight once (in 2019) since winning the tournament as hosts in 2004. The Carthage Eagles are, some might say, frequent under-achievers at this level.

Yet they head into the tournament in reasonably good shape having reached the final of last month's Arab Cup, only losing to AFCON champions Algeria after extra-time.

Mondher Kebaier will be expecting first opponents Mali to represent their toughest challenge in Group F, with the Eagles having never lost their AFCON opener (W6 D5).

One to watch: Hannibal Mejbri (Tunisia)

Manchester United midfielder Hannibal started all six of Tunisia's games as they reached the final of the Arab Cup. He may not feature quite as prominently in a full-strength squad, but he possesses the kind of off-the-cuff abilities that could help unlock stubborn defences. Expect him to draw a lot of fouls, such is his natural talent.

Mauritania v Gambia (16:00)

Gambia, along with the Comoros, are one of two nations debuting at the AFCON this year and will be eager to produce a positive showing.

In theory, they begin with arguably the most winnable of their three Group F games, with Mauritania coach Didier Gomes Da Rosa likening the match to a "semi-final".

His counterpart Tom Saintfiet has a better-travelled squad, however, his selection made up mostly of Europe-based players – Sampdoria, Gent, Spezia, Real Valladolid and even Roma are among the clubs represented.

The west-African nation may be the lowest-ranked team in the competition (150th), but they reached Cameroon as the only side to come through both the preliminary and group stages of qualifying, shocking Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola to top the table.

One to watch: Musa Barrow (Gambia)

Barrow is one of six Gambia players to ply his trade in Italy, though the 23-year-old is the most polished. The left winger also has an end product, with his 24 non-penalty Serie A goal involvements since the start of last season a highly respectable effort that is bettered by only 15 players.

 

Equatorial Guinea v Ivory Coast (19:00)

Ivory Coast might have gone all the way back in 2019 were it not for their somewhat surprising penalties elimination by Algeria in the last eight.

They are among the favourites once again and will have a shot at revenge when they meet Algeria in Group E, a clash that will likely determine who finishes top.

But first they tussle with an Equatorial Guinea side competing for the first time as a non-host nation, having been knocked out by Ivory Coast in the last eight 10 years ago and then reaching the semis in 2015.

Juan Micha's side will do well to see off the Elephants here, though, with Ivory Coast suffering just two defeats in their previous 20 AFCON group games.

One to watch: Sebastien Haller (Ivory Coast)

Ajax striker Haller is having an incredible season at club level, boasting a goals haul of 22 across between the Eredivisie and Champions League already. In fact, his 10 strikes in Europe made him the quickest player to reach double figures for career goals in the Champions League (six games), and he matched Cristiano Ronaldo's record of scoring in every single game in a single group stage.

 

Nigeria were deserved 1-0 winners in their heavyweight Group D opener with Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations, with Mohamed Salah unable to inspire the record seven-time champions.

Carlos Queiroz's side were second best for virtually the entire game but especially the first half, when they found themselves trailing to Kelechi Iheanacho's wonderstrike.

The Leicester City striker was afforded time to take a touch just inside the box, but there was little Mohamed El-Shenawy could do about the finish as Iheanacho rifled into the top-right corner as the ball sat up nicely for him.

The lively Taiwo Awoniyi thought he had made it 2-0 early in the second half, but his header was adjudged to have been saved right on the line.

A poor touch then robbed Iheanacho of the chance to slot into an empty net, before the quiet Salah was crowded out just in time as he got a feeble shot away in a rare sighting of goal for Egypt.

Egypt will now be playing catch-up on matchday two as they face Guinea-Bissau. Nigeria could potentially secure passage to the knockouts against Sudan.

 

Riyad Mahrez and co. failed to spark as reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions Algeria were held to a 0-0 draw by Sierra Leone in their opening Group E fixture.

Heading into the delayed 2021 edition of the tournament aiming to become the first team to win consecutive AFCON titles since Egypt won three in a row between 2006 and 2010, Algeria dominated on Tuesday but could not find a way through Sierra Leone's stubborn rearguard.

Appearing at only their third AFCON finals and their first since 1996, Sierra Leone went close themselves midway through the first half through Alhaji Kamara and Umaru Bangura, though they only managed one attempt on target throughout.

The second half was all Algeria, yet Mohamed Kamara pulled off some excellent saves to deny Yacine Brahimi and Mahrez, while one-time England international Steven Caulker made a superb block from Sofiane Bendebka.

Algeria were able to call on the likes of Baghdad Bounedjah – who netted the winner against Senegal in the 2019 final – and Said Benrahma from the bench, but the West Ham attacker spurned a glorious opportunity late on as the holders' profligacy proved costly in an underwhelming start to their title defence in a group that also includes the Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea.

Gabon ensured Comoros' Africa Cup of Nations finals debut was one to forget as they started their Group C campaign with a 1-0 win.

Aaron Boupendza's superb finish from a tight angle proved the difference in a game defined by otherwise wayward shooting.

Louis Ameka Autchanga slid Boupendza down the left flank and the Al-Arabi forward left Comoros goalkeeper Ali Ahamada stranded with a stunning strike.

Comoros dominated possession and had eight attempts to Gabon's seven as they attempted to find a way back into the contest.

But just one of those efforts hit the target, leaving them with an uphill climb to qualify from a group also featuring Morocco and Ghana.

Gabon could potentially book their place in the next stage with a win over Ghana on Friday.

Sofiane Boufal's late strike gave Morocco a 1-0 victory over Ghana in a drab Africa Cup of Nations Group C opener at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo on Monday.

The Black Stars and the Atlas Lions looked to be heading for a point apiece from a match that was lacking in entertaining until Boufal popped up with an 83rd-minute winner in Yaounde.

Morocco captain Romain Saiss failed to take a good chance to open the scoring when he nodded Boufal's fizzed free-kick over the bar a few minutes before the end of a poor first half

The quality did not improve after the break, but Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou produced a brilliant save to tip Joseph Paintsil's measured right-foot shot around the post after 72 minutes.

Boufal then snatched the victory when he drilled in with his right foot from inside the penalty area after the ball came off Thomas Partey's boot and fell nicely for him and there was no way back for Ghana.

Guinea got off to a winning but unconvincing start at the Africa Cup of Nations as they edged past Malawi with a 1-0 win on Monday.

A stylish goal from Issiaga Sylla was enough to seal the points, but they were made to work hard by a side playing at just the third finals in their history.

Indeed, it was Malawi who had by far the better of the early chances and would have gone ahead had Yamikani Chester kept his composure and then kept his feet when twice through on goal.

Ibrahima Conte hit the post with a header before Sylla broke the deadlock, steering home first time after Jose Kante had been found by a good ball from Liverpool's Naby Keita.

Experienced Guinea goalkeeper Aly Keita was called on to deny Malawi captain Limbikani Mzava and Peter Banda before half-time as Malawi, ranked 129th in the world and unable even to name a full substitutes' bench, continued to threaten.

Guinea took greater control in a second half short on chances as they took a positive step towards qualifying from Group B.

However, the level of their performance did little to belie the 2.28 per cent chance of winning the tournament that Opta's predictor tool gave them before kick-off, and coach Kaba Diawara will hope for better when they face Senegal on Friday.

Tuesday will be a day of contrasts as defending champions Algeria begin their Africa Cup of Nations title defence against a Sierra Leone side returning to the competition after a 26-year absence.

Algeria will be unequivocal favourites as they look to begin Group E in positive fashion, with Djamel Belmadi's men unbeaten in 34 competitive matches.

Their success in last month's Arab Cup contributed to that run and provided part of their squad with a solid period of preparation.

But the biggest game of the day will take place between Group D rivals Nigeria and Egypt, who will both be hoping to make early statements in their respective title bids.

Algeria v Sierra Leone (13:00 GMT)

It is déjà vu for Sierra Leone, as they faced Algeria – their only previous AFCON meeting – when they last qualified for the competition back in 1996.

But AFCON stalwarts Algeria will be massive favourites here as they begin their 19th participation in the tournament, aiming to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since Egypt's three in a row between 2006 and 2010.

Few will envy the task on Sierra Leone's hands, with Algeria having scored more goals (19) in qualifying than any of the 24 teams in Cameroon.

If they avoid defeat on Tuesday, Algeria will beat their previous best unbeaten run (eight matches) at the AFCON.

One to watch: Said Benrahma (Algeria)

The Fennec Foxes' squad is packed full of experience and quality, with as many as five players boasting double-figures for international goals. West Ham star Benrahma is yet to establish himself among their key players, but this season has found another level in the Premier League, his nine non-penalty goal involvements being bettered by only seven forwards.

 

Nigeria v Egypt (16:00 GMT)

On paper, Group D looks very tough to call – this encounter could at least give us an idea of who is likeliest to finish top.

Either way, this is a proper heavyweight duel between two of the AFCON's most-recognisable nations.

This will be Egypt's 25th appearance at the AFCON, more than any other country, and they are aiming to win it for a record-extending eighth success.

But Nigeria's pedigree is similarly impressive given the fact they have reached the semi-finals in 14 of the previous 16 tournaments.

If they do emerge victorious on Tuesday, it will end Egypt's 16-match group stage unbeaten run, which dates back to 2004.

One to watch: Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Obvious? Perhaps. Justified? Absolutely. Many would argue Salah has been the best player in the world over the past year, and so he has high expectations to meet here. No other player in Carlos Queiroz's squad has more than seven international goals and despite only being 29, he's at least four years older than any other forward in the selection – and let us not forget, he already has 25 Premier League goal involvements this term, 12 more than anyone else.

 

Sudan v Guinea-Bissau (19:00 GMT)

Sudan will be hoping it is a happy return to Africa's biggest tournament as they prepare for a first outing since the 2012 edition.

Ending a run of no clean sheets in the competition since beating Ghana 2-0 in the 1970 final would certainly go along way to giving them a platform to build on over the next month.

Since that success 52 years ago, Sudan have only picked up three wins from a possible 13, but they will not head into the fixture scared of Guinea-Bissau, even though they lost to them 4-2 as recently as September.

Baciro Cande's men have finished bottom in each of their previous two AFCON appearances and go into this game without a goal in 437 minutes in the competition, the worst goalless run of this year's participants.

One to watch: Mohamed Abdelrahman (Sudan)

The Falcons of Jediane will be pinning most of their hopes on striker Abdelrahman, who scored a third of their nine goals in the qualification campaign.

Senegal got their Africa Cup of Nations campaign started with a 1-0 win over Zimbabwe, as Sadio Mane scored the decisive goal with a matter of seconds remaining.

Aliou Cisse's side were without as many as six "indisputable starting players" due to a COVID-19 outbreak, which impacted the likes of Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly.

But even allowing for their absences, the Teranga Lions failed to meet expectations for much of the match.

Keita Balde summed up their performance early on, wasting one of few clear opportunities when shooting over from close range, and Mane spurned another good chance.

The game was largely played at a pedestrian pace in the heat of Bafoussam, but Boulaye Dia sprung into action 14 minutes from time and looked certain to square to Mane for a tap-in, only for Petros Mhari to brilliantly hold on to the squared pass.

Zimbabwe looked set to hang on, but in the final 10 seconds of stoppage time, Kelvin Madzongwe charged down a shot and accidentally handled the ball, allowing Mane to smash home the resulting penalty.

Julio Tavares' first-half goal proved enough for Cape Verde to get their Africa Cup of Nations campaign off to a winning start against 10-man Ethiopia.

Ethiopia's appearance in this year's finals marks only their second in the last 20 editions of the tournament and for them the Group A encounter began in inauspicious fashion.

They saw centre-back Yared Baye sent off after a review from the VAR in the 12th minute.

Baye hacked down Tavares on the edge of the box after losing possession inside his own half.

Cape Verde finally capitalised on their extra man in first-half stoppage time, Garry Rodrigues volleying Jamiro Monteiro's deep cross to the far post back across goal for Tavares to nod in.

Despite dominating possession and chances, Cape Verde could not add to their lead in the second half, but it mattered not with Ethiopia never threatening to find an equaliser.

The Africa Cup of Nations is in full swing following its big kick-off on Sunday, and Monday sees the action taken up a notch.

There will be twice as many games as Group B and Group C get under way, providing first opportunities to see two of the pre-tournament favourites: Morocco and Senegal.

But the shroud of COVID-19 lingers over practically every AFCON match at the moment, and it will be especially difficult to ignore its impact on games on Monday, with the likes of Senegal, Guinea, Malawi and Gabon all missing key players.

Senegal v Zimbabwe (13:00 GMT)

Senegal's second so-called 'golden generation' is running out of time.

They arrived in Cameroon with a stacked squad, but many of their key players are approaching 30 or are already there.

To make matters worse, coach Aliou Cisse is without a host of big players against Zimbabwe, a game he will be keen to just get out of the way.

"I was looking at the composition of our team," Cisse said. "Compared to our last match against Congo, I can already tell you we have six indisputable starting players who are not on the squad list: Edouard Mendy, Krepin Diatta, Ismaila Sarr, Nampalys Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly and Saliou Ciss.

"Having six absent starting players, it's true that it's worrying."

One to watch: Sadio Mane (Senegal)

Senegal have one of the best squads – if not the very best – in the tournament, but they are going to rely on Mane to a certain degree, particularly given their COVID-19 absences. Thankfully he is exceptional both when it comes to sniffing out chances and creating them, with his 0.67 non-penalty expected goal involvements every 90 minutes being the fourth-best in the Premier League (min. 900 minutes played) this term.

 

Guinea v Malawi (16:00 GMT)

Both Guinea and Malawi have been among the sides struck by coronavirus ahead of this tournament, but the former should still fancy their chances on Monday against a team considered Group B's rank outsiders.

Anything but three points will be a major disappointment for Guinea on matchday one, and key player Naby Keita is not among those to be afflicted with COVID-19.

As such, coach Kaba Diawara is feeling confident.

"We have the ambition to go as far as possible in this competition, which is why I accepted this mission," Diawara told Africa Top Sports ahead of the tournament.

"It's clear that it is the results that will speak. We try to put things in place, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."

One to watch: Mohamed Bayo (Guinea)

While Naby Keita may be the team's most-recognisable star, expectations on Bayo are significant given he heads into the tournament with nine Ligue 1 goals to his name with Clermont this season, 45 per cent of their total output, and only one was a penalty. Only Jonathan David (12) and Wissam Ben Yedder and Ludovic Ajorque (both 10) have scored more in the French top flight so far.

 

Morocco v Ghana (16:00 GMT)

After Senegal (60.9 per cent), Morocco are the likeliest to finish top of a group at the AFCON (52.6 per cent), according to Stats Perform analysis. This speaks to the quality in the side assembled by Vahid Halilhodzic.

Even without Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech, who has been exiled, Morocco boast some fine players and will be expected to go deep into the competition – not that coach Halilhodzic is taking anything for granted.

"We have to prepare well to face the three teams in the group: Ghana, Gabon, and the Comoros," the Bosnian told reporters.

"Although Morocco are favourites to reach the second round, we have to prepare well and play with a lot of ambition and determination to go as far as possible."

One to watch: Yassine Bounou (Morocco)

This is likely to be Morocco's biggest challenge in the group stage, so they will want to be solid at the back. Bounou should help them in that respect – the Sevilla goalkeeper's 25 clean sheets in all competitions in 2021 was a total bettered only by Ederson (26) and Edouard Mendy (27) across the top five leagues in Europe.

 

Comoros v Gabon (19:00 GMT)

Comoros' Group C opener will be a momentous game as they play in a major international tournament for the first time.

Making a splash will be tough, but coach Amir Abdou is adamant they are more than worthy of their place in Cameroon.

 

He told Africa Foot United: "We haven't qualified by chance. We therefore don't think that we will let the opportunity to go as far as possible slip away.

"We will fight with our weapons with our various opponents, as tough as they are."

 

One to watch: Denis Bouanga (Gabon)

Gabon are likely to be without two of their most experienced players in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mario Lemina due to coronavirus, meaning others will need to step up. Bouanga will probably be among those expected to take on greater responsibility. The gifted Saint-Etienne left-winger is a good dribbler and takes a lot of shots, his 3.4 attempts per 90 minutes being the fifth-most in Ligue 1 this season (min. 900 minutes played).

Vincent Aboubakar scored two penalties as Cameroon came from behind to beat Burkina Faso 2-1 in the opening match of the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

After twice being moved due to climate issues and COVID-19, the tournament finally got under way at Olembe Stadum in Yaounde on Sunday.

Burkina Faso took the lead in the first game in Group A, which also includes Ethiopia and Cape Verde, thanks to Gustavo Sangare's back-post volley after 24 minutes.

Bertrand Traore had a header cleared off the line in the build-up to that opening goal, but he gave away a penalty for a trip on Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa at the other end.

Aboubakar converted following a long VAR review and the Cameroon captain was on target again from the spot eight minutes later after Issoufou Dayo slid in on Nouhou Tolo to concede another penalty.

VAR intervened to deny an offside Aboubakar when he thought he had bundled in a third in the second half, but two goals proved enough for Cameroon to get off to a winning start.

We may only be a week into 2022, but the first major international football tournament of the year is on the horizon, with the Africa Cup of Nations kicking off on Sunday.

It's been a long time coming as well – it was initially due to take place in June and July 2021 but was brought forward to January 2021 due to concerns about the weather. It then had to be pushed back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Of course, fans and teams have had to put up with the usual posturing from those at certain clubs regarding the inconvenience of relinquishing players in the middle of the season, but despite that there remains a healthy selection of big names.

In fact, given the standard the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez and Achraf Hakimi usually play at, some might even argue this is one of the highest-quality groups of players to feature at a single AFCON.

But the beauty of every international tournament is that there's more to them than the big names – there are plenty of promising younger players looking to impress for a global audience.

Kamaldeen Sulemana, 19, winger – Ghana

Hold on to your seats! Kamaldeen is sure to ramp up the excitement at AFCON, such is his rather chaotic approach to attacking – and acrobatic celebration. The teenage winger is immensely tricky and agile, with his 246 take-on attempts in the 2020-21 Danish Superliga nearly twice as many as anyone else – to put that into context, only Lionel Messi managed more (261) in the top five leagues. He's carried that into Ligue 1 following his move to Rennes, with his average of one shot involvements from a ball carry every 43 minutes being the second best in Ligue 1 (min. 900 minutes played) after Kylian Mbappe – that's obviously pretty good.

 

Ibrahim Sangare, 24, defensive midfielder – Ivory Coast

While good performances at AFCON alone may not be enough for players to convince big clubs they're worth a punt on, showing promise might just get a few more eyes on them. Sangare is definitely one of those who could put himself 'in the shop window'. The PSV midfielder has a lot about him, particularly when it comes to defending. In this season's Eredivisie, only three players (at least 500 minutes played) have averaged more than his 3.4 tackles per 90 minutes, while he ranks fifth for interceptions frequency (2.5) and third for middle-third recoveries (5.7). He's also technically proficient and happy on the ball, with only three players attempting more passes (81.1) on a per-90-minute basis than him.

Hannibal Mejbri, 18, attacking midfielder – Tunisia

A former France youth international, Mejbri may have only declared for Tunisia in 2021 but this will already be his second international tournament. The Manchester United midfielder started all six of Tunisia's games as they reached the final of the Arab Cup in December, eventually losing to Algeria in the final. Hannibal may not feature quite as prominently in a full-strength squad, but the midfielder possesses the kind of off-the-cuff abilities that endear him to fans – if not opponents. He is known to be targeted for fouls when playing for United's second team, such is his natural talent.

Ilaix Moriba, 18, central midfielder – Guinea

2021-22 hasn't quite gone as Moriba presumably thought it would. He left Barcelona after failing to agree a new contract, despite having broken into the first-team setup at Camp Nou. The midfielder had shown exceptional promise, particularly on the ball – he averaged 3.2 dribbles per 90 minutes, a total bettered by only four team-mates, and boasted a success rate of 89.3 per cent, with only Miralem Pjanic bettering him. The €16million signing has played just twice in the Bundesliga since the move to Leipzig and will surely be relishing some competitive action.

Edmond Tapsoba, 22, centre-back – Burkina Faso

If Burkina Faso go on to have a good tournament, Tapsoba will almost certainly have had something to do with it. The centre-back is an extremely elegant player for someone roughly the size of a small building and whose name sounds like a hipster bar, and at club level he performs a vital function in getting Leverkusen on the front foot, with his 13.5 progressive ball carries in the Bundesliga this term second only to Alphonso Davies. If he can translate that to the international stage, Burkina Faso will have a real weapon in the middle – even if he doesn't, he'll still give them aerial threat at set-pieces.

 

Abdul Fatawu Issahaku, 17, forward – Ghana

The case of Issahaku is a rather intriguing one. Transfer rumours in 2021 suggested Liverpool had signed him for £1.5million, but that soon turned out to be false. He remains in his native Ghana, but the exciting attacker has seemingly done enough to earn a shot at international level despite being just 17 – he's the second-youngest player at the tournament. But he's used to that sort of situation. After all, before he'd even turned 17 in March he was named Player of the Tournament at the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations. While that Liverpool move never materialised, he's got himself another opportunity to shine.

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