Leandro Trossard shone with a goal and two assists as Belgium cruised to a 3-0 friendly victory over Burkina Faso in Brussels on Tuesday. 

Roberto Martinez made six changes to the side that started the 2-2 draw against the Republic of Ireland, but it was one of those who kept their place that opened the scoring. 

Hans Vanaken's header was the first of two goals in the space of two minutes, with Trossard netting an opportunistic strike after setting the Club Brugge midfielder up. 

Another brilliant delivery from Trossard was nodded home by substitute Christian Benteke with 15 minutes remaining, rounding off a comfortable outing for the Red Devils. 

It could have been very different had Matz Sels not bailed out Sebastiaan Bornauw for a lax pass that Dango Ouattara pounced on with an important tackle early on.

It was a rare opening for the visitors, who fell behind in the 16th minute when Vanaken planted a header from Trossard's cross into the bottom-left corner.  

Trossard then got on the scoresheet himself, converting on the follow-up after Michy Batshuayi's volley was parried by Burkina Faso goalkeeper Herve Koffi.  

Burkina Faso enjoyed more of the ball in the second half and Sels was forced to make a diving save to keep Cedric Badolo's curling effort out of the bottom-right corner after the hour mark. 

Benteke was sent on for Batshuayi in the 69th minute and, after being denied by Koffi with his first chance, he glanced a header home to seal a routine win for Belgium – just their second in six games. 

Cameroon beat Burkina Faso on penalties to claim third place at the Africa Cup of Nations after recovering from three goals down at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo.

The tournament hosts trailed to strikes from Steeve Yago and Djibril Ouattara, either side of an Andre Onana own goal, with 49 minutes played of Saturday's third-place play-off.

But Stephane Bahoken pulled one back and substitute Vincent Aboubakar scored twice in the space of two minutes late on to force penalties, which Cameroon edged 5-3.
 

????????

The Indomitable Lions with a MASSIVE comeback to clinch the bronze medal #TotalEnergiesAFCON2021 | #AFCON2021 | #TeamCameroon | @FecafootOfficie pic.twitter.com/Ihu951cZTL

— #TotalEnergiesAFCON2021(@CAF_Online) February 5, 2022 Cameroon made nine changes from their semi-final loss to Egypt and that told when Yago volleyed in from an Issa Kabore cross.

Onana, one of those to retain his place in the side, comically deflected Kabore's cross into his own net and Ouattara headed in a third for Burkina Faso early in the second half.

After Bahoken fired in from close range with 19 minutes to go, half-time substitute Aboubakar headed in a second Cameroon goal and then poked home a third moments later.

That led to a shoot-out and, after the first five penalties were converted, Onana denied Blati Toure to tee up Ambroise Oyongo to convert the winning kick for Cameroon.

Senegal reached a second consecutive Africa Cup of Nations final as goals from Abdou Diallo, Idrissa Gueye and Sadio Mane secured a 3-1 win over Burkina Faso on Wednesday. 

Aliou Cisse's side were denied a first AFCON title by Algeria back in 2019, but they will have another chance to get their hands on the trophy against either Cameroon or Egypt in Sunday's decider after edging their semi-final.

Senegal thought they had been awarded a penalty deep into first-half stoppage, but the VAR came to Burkina Faso's rescue with referee Bamlak Tessema Weyesa overturning his initial decision after replays showed Gueye's shot had hit Edmond Tapsoba's stomach and not his hand.

The Lions of Teranga deservedly broke the deadlock in the 70th minute, however, when Paris Saint-Germain defender Diallo spun on the six-yard box and fired a crisp strike past substitute goalkeeper Sofiane Ouedraogo. 

And Senegal doubled their advantage six minutes later when Gueye slotted home from inside the penalty area after being teed up by Mane.

Ibrahim Toure pulled one back for Burkina Faso with an improvised finish with his knee in the 82nd minute, but Mane put the game to bed five minutes later with a sublime breakaway goal.

Sadio Mane will be hoping to fire Senegal back into the Africa Cup of Nations final when they take on Burkina Faso in the semi-finals on Wednesday. 

Senegal's hopes of winning a first AFCON title were dashed by Algeria back in 2019 but they are looking to become the first team since Egypt in 2010 to reach successive finals – and this time they will be desperate to go one better and lift the trophy.

History appears to be in their favour too. That loss to Algeria is the Lions of Teranga's only defeat in their past six knockout games in the competition, and they have only conceded two goals in that span.  

Furthermore, they are unbeaten in their two previous AFCON meetings with Burkina Faso, though both of those came in the group stage. 

But Burkina Faso are no strangers to this stage of the competition. They have made the final four for the fourth time in their history and the third time in the past five editions – this despite not even qualifying for the 2019 tournament. 

Kamou Malo's team did well to upset Tunisia in the quarter-finals, though they will be without their goalscorer Dango Ouattara after his red card in the 82nd minute of their 1-0 victory. 

Malo said: "I think that at this level of competition, there are no limits. Don't worry, we all have the same goal, which is to win this trophy. 

"As for my desire to go all the way in this competition, yes, there is no doubt about that. We are ready to be extremely competitive to go to the end of this competition." 

Burkina Faso's hopes of pulling off another upset will rely heavily on keeping Mane at bay. 

The Liverpool star may have just two goals in Cameroon, but only Mohamed Salah (14), Sofiane Boufal (11) and Ibrahim Sangare (eight) have outdone his seven open-play key passes in the competition.

One to watch: Gustavo Sangare (Burkina Faso) 

With Ouattara absent due to suspension, Sangare will be expected to step up on the opposite wing. 

He has already been important for Burkina Faso, scoring the opening goal of the tournament in a 2-1 loss to hosts Cameroon in the group stage – no one in the squad has found the net on more than one occasion in the competition. 

But it is his ingenuity that the Stallions could use more than anything. Only Zakaria Sanogo and Blati Toure (four each) have created more chances from open play for Burkina Faso than Sangare's three, while the Quevilly winger has been involved in a team-high three goal-ending sequences. 

He has proven to be a real threat with the ball at his feet and could help thwart Senegal and send the underdogs into the showpiece. 

Dango Ouattara scored and was later sent off as Burkina Faso advanced to the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals with a 1-0 win over Tunisia. 

Ouattara's first international goal means Kamou Malo's men will now face Senegal or Equatorial Guinea, who meet on Sunday, in Wednesday's last-four tie, although the Lorient forward will be absent after receiving a red card for a heavy aerial challenge. 

Wahbi Khazri went close with a free-kick as Tunisia dominated much of the first half, yet it was Burkina Faso who went in at the interval ahead.

Ouattara latched onto Ibrahim Toure's pass, checked back inside two Tunisia defenders and fired a left-footed strike past Bechir Ben Said three minutes into stoppage time. 

Tunisia thought they would be given the chance to restore parity late on when referee Joshua Bondo was encouraged to check the pitchside monitor by VAR following Soumaila Ouattara's challenge on Khazri in the penalty area, but the official stuck with his initial decision. 

He agreed with VAR soon after, though, dishing out a red card to Ouattara after he had caught Ali Maaloul in the face with an elbow. Despite their numerical disadvantage in the closing eight minutes, a resolute Burkina Faso held on to book their spot in the last four. 

The Africa Cup of Nations has reached the quarter-final stage and Saturday's matches promise the chance of history.

Host nation Cameroon will meet Gambia in the competition for the first time, their second successive game against tournament debutants, something they last experienced way back in 1972.

Tunisia meet Burkina Faso in the later match looking to end a fairly rotten recent record at this stage of the AFCON, although history favours their opponents.

Two of Egypt, Morocco, Senegal and Equatorial Guinea will lie in wait for winners...

 

Gambia v Cameroon (16:00 GMT)

Cameroon have enjoyed facing AFCON debutants of late: including their 2-1 win over Comoros in the last round, they have won three consecutive matches against such opposition, which is more than they managed in their first six such games.

Gambia, who surprised Guinea in the last 16, are bidding to become the first team to reach the semi-finals in their first Africa Cup of Nations since eventual winners South Africa did so back in 1996.

Unbeaten in their past eight matches in all competitions, Cameroon have progressed from two of their most recent three AFCON quarter-finals, having gone through on penalties against Senegal most recently in 2017. Defeat to Gambia, the smallest nation on the African mainland and one who had never before reached a major tournament, would go down as one of the competition's greatest upsets.

Yet for Musa Barrow, whose goal sent them into the last eight, there is little pressure.

"Everyone is happy back home," he told AFP. "It is a small nation. We love football. People learn football from the street so coming to this AFCON, reaching this stage is a big improvement, and it is going to take the Gambian name to higher heights.

"We have nothing to lose, but they are the host nation. If they lose it is going to be a big disaster for them."

One to watch: Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon)

Gambia will need little incentive to keep an eye on Cameroon's captain and most dangerous striker, but Aboubakar is chasing not just a place in the semi-finals here.

Not only has he scored in each of his past six games in the competition, but he could also become the first player in AFCON history to net in a team's first five matches at a single edition of the tournament.

 

Burkina Faso v Tunisia (19:00 GMT)

Tunisia might be favourites - they are ranked 30 places higher in the world than Burkina Faso - but, in the previous two meetings at the AFCON in 1998 and 2017, it was the Stallions who progressed at the quarter-final stage.

In fact, Burkina Faso have gone through from each of their three last-eight matches in this competition, a record only Mali can better (they have won each of their five previous quarter-finals).

No team has made it to this stage more often since its introduction in 1992 than Tunisia, who are 11-time quarter-finalists now, but this has not been a happy round for Mondher Kebaier's side: they have been eliminated from five of their past six such matches.

Still, after knocking out Nigeria in the last 16 despite COVID-19 cases badly depleting their squad, perhaps this will be their year.

One to watch: Youssef Msakni (Tunisia)

Msakni's winner against Nigeria saw him become the first Tunisia player to score in five different editions of the AFCON. There are only four players to score in six: Cameroon great Samuel Eto'o, Zambia's Kalusha Bwalya, and Ghana forwards Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew.

 

Ismahila Ouedraogo scored the winning spot-kick as Burkina Faso beat 10-man Gabon 7-6 on penalties after a 1-1 draw to advance to the quarter-finals at the Africa Cup of Nations.

A tight game was sent to extra time after a dramatic late equaliser from the Panthers, and an even more tense shoot-out was ultimately decided by the 22-year-old Ouedraogo.

There had been a penalty in normal time after Issa Kabore was brought down by Sidney Obissa in the 14th minute, only for Bertrand Traore to slam his effort against the crossbar.

The Aston Villa man was not to be denied 10 minutes later when he ran on to a through ball from Hassane Bande and slotted in off the post past the onrushing Jean Noel Amonome.

Gabon thought they were level four minutes before half-time as a long ball from skipper Bruno Ecuele Manga found Aaron-Salem Boupendza, who cut inside and finished well but was ruled to be offside.

Obissa received his marching orders in the 67th minute after picking up a second yellow card, but Gabon still forced extra time as a 91st minute corner was headed in by Ecuele Manga, though went down as an Adama Guira own goal after diverting in off the Burkinabe midfielder.

An extra 30 minutes could not separate the sides and so the game went to penalties, with both teams scoring six of their first eight attempts.

After Lloyd Palun hit Gabon's ninth penalty against the bar, Ismahila Ouedraogo finally ended things by sending Amonome the wrong way, booking the Stallions' quarter-final place against either Nigeria or Tunisia next Saturday.

By Sunday evening in Cameroon, the first two quarter-finalists at the Africa Cup of Nations will be known.

Burkina Faso should start as slight favourites against Gabon, chiefly due to their win when the teams met ahead of the tournament.

Nigeria will then be expected to overcome a Tunisia side who qualified for the last-16 stage via the back door.

Burkina Faso v Gabon (16:00 GMT)

Burkina Faso rather scrambled through the group stage, losing their opener to the hosts before winning 1-0 against Cape Verde and drawing 1-1 with Ethiopia.

They were runners-up in 2013 and finished third in 2017, so this is far from uncharted territory and a 3-0 win over Gabon in a warm-up game for this tournament at the start of January may be a guide of what to expect from this tussle in Limbe.

Midfielder Adama Guira is urging caution though, telling the Sidwaya newspaper: "A lot of things have changed on the Gabonese side after this friendly match. Their last outing against Morocco attests to this. They are a very good team."

Gabon were unbeaten in the group stage, despite the disruption of losing captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and midfielder Mario Lemina after brushes with COVID-19. A win over the Comoros was consolidated by draws with Ghana and Morocco.

That pre-tournament loss to the Stallions might be a factor, but Gabon are unbeaten in their previous two AFCON meetings with Sunday's opponents – both having taken place in the group stages (2-0 in 2015 and 1-1 in 2017).

One to watch: Guelor Kanga (Gabon)

Red Star Belgrade attacking midfielder Kanga has been a livewire for Gabon so far in the tournament, with a team-high eight shots and five chances created (one assist). It earned him a place among the substitutes in the tournament's official best team of the group stage.

 

Nigeria v Tunisia (19:00 GMT)

Nigeria have two players in the group stage's best XI, with centre-back William Troost-Ekong and forward Moses Simon both earning plaudits for their early performances.

Augustine Eguavoen's team were the only side with a 100 per cent winning record in the groups, and now they tackle a Tunisia outfit who only edged through as one of the best third-placed teams, having lost twice already.

These sides are meeting for the sixth time at the Africa Cup of Nations and Tunisia's only successful AFCON meeting with Nigeria came in 2004, when they progressed via penalties in the semi-finals, going on to win the competition.

Nigeria have won 12 of their last 14 AFCON games (L2), and they start this game as hot favourites.

Nigeria have had more different scorers (6) than any other team so far at this year's tournament, with Kelechi Iheanacho, Simon, Simon Chukwueze, Taiwo Awoniyi, Troost-Ekong and Umar Sadiq each scoring once.

One to watch: Kelechi Iheanacho

The Leicester City striker has one goal and one assist so far, creating a team-high six chances. Such evidence points to him being a likely menace to the Tunisian defence.

 

Burkina Faso clinched a place in the last 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Ethiopia in their Group A finale.

Finalists in 2013, Burkina Faso do not look like threatening to go that far on this evidence, with Ethiopia unfortunate not to claim all three points.

Ethiopia striker Getaneh Kebede saw a bending effort kept out of the top-left corner by Sofiane Ouedraogo in the 10th minute.

They had four shots on target in the first half but it was Burkina Faso who had the only one to find the net, Cyrille Bayala lofting over Teklemariam Shanko after latching on to Adama Guira's superb chipped pass in the 24th minute.

Kebede was then denied again by Ouedraogo from close range, but he eventually got his reward for an impressive performance from the penalty spot.

Steeve Yago was adjudged by the VAR to have handled a free-kick in the area and Kebede coolly stroked into the bottom-left corner from 12 yards seven minutes into the second half.

But the draw proved enough to send Burkina Faso through as Cape Verde – whom they beat in their previous encounter – also drew 1-1 with group winners Cameroon. Ethiopia go home with just a point to their name from only their second AFCON appearance since 1982.

Monday sees the conclusion of Group A of the Africa Cup of Nations, with three sides still hoping to reach the knockouts.

While host nation Cameroon have already secured their last-16 spot, any of Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and Ethiopia could yet join them in the next round.

Ethiopia's qualification would truly seem miraculous given they lost their opening two games and have failed to win any of their previous 10 matches in this competition.

Yet in a tournament that has already seen a few shocks, few would rule out another famous result.

 

Burkina Faso v Ethiopia

Ethiopia are on a four-match losing run at the AFCON, and they have only once endured a longer such streak, losing five in a row between 1968 and 1970.

They also suffered a 4-0 defeat to Burkina Faso in the only previous meeting of these sides in this competition, in what was the Stallions' biggest victory in the tournament.

However, despite losing 1-0 to Cape Verde and 4-1 to Cameroon at these finals, Wubetu Abate's men can still clinch a top-two finish with a win on matchday three. A high-scoring win would see them snatch second place should the hosts win the other game, while they could still end up as one of the top four third-place finishers.

"We did everything to put in a good match and a good performance against Cameroon," said Abate. "We scored a goal early in the game but couldn't keep the score in our favour.

"We are learning in the big competitions. Experience has made the difference between us and the Cameroon team. Each match has its characteristics. The matches are different but we try to show our abilities and play good football."

One to watch: Gustavo Sangare

Burkina Faso could finish second even with a defeat as long as Cape Verde lose, but the man best placed to get them all three points could be Sangare. Scorer of the opening goal of the tournament against Cameroon, he has attempted more shots (four) and created more chances (six) than any other player for his side.

 

Cape Verde v Cameroon

Although they have twice had to come from behind, Cameroon have looked impressive in these finals, their 4-1 thrashing of Ethiopia guaranteeing their spot in the last 16.

Should Toni Conceicao choose to rest any of his stars, this could prove to be a far trickier test given Cape Verde's recent defensive record.

They had lost only once in their previous eight AFCON matches before a 1-0 defeat to Burkina Faso, and that was the only time in their most recent four games in the competition in which they conceded a goal. They have faced difficulties in the opposition box, though, failing to score in three of their past four AFCON matches.

There is plenty to admire about Cape Verde's approach, even if goals have been a little hard to come by. They have recorded more sequences of 10 passes or more than any side at these finals (24), while a high-pressing approach has yielded 13 high turnovers, a figure bettered by only four teams.

One to watch: Kenny Rocha Santos

No Cape Verde player has attempted more shots (five), created more chances (two) or made more recoveries (13) than Kenny Rocha Santos. The 22-year-old Oostende midfielder also leads his side for shot-ending sequence involvements (eight) and shot-ending carries (two). Little wonder there is talk of interest from Liverpool.

 

Burkina Faso blew open the battle to qualify from Group A of the Africa Cup of Nations as they beat Cape Verde 1-0 on Thursday.

A clever finish from Hassane Bande with six minutes left of the first half gave Kamou Malo's side their first points, after they lost 2-1 to hosts Cameroon in their opening fixture.

Cape Verde were seeking a second win after beginning with victory over Ethiopia, but they produced only one shot on target in each half in a rather insipid attacking display.

Indeed, the only major moment of quality came when Bande used his chest to turn in a ferocious right-wing cross from Issa Kabore to put Burkina Faso ahead.

Cape Verde applied greater pressure in the second half but could not avoid suffering just their second defeat in nine Africa Cup of Nations matches.

The result also puts them under substantial pressure as they must now seek a positive result against group leaders Cameroon to ensure they qualify.

 

 

Africa Cup of Nations hosts Cameroon are back in action as the second matches of the group stage get under way.

Thursday sees Group A take centre stage, with Cameroon facing Ethiopia and Cape Verde taking on Burkina Faso.

Cameroon, champions in 2017, of course have the aim of going all the way on home soil to claim their sixth AFCON title. A win, combined with victory for Cape Verde, would see both progress to the knockout stage with a game to spare.

Cameroon v Ethiopia (16:00 GMT)

Cameroon are ranked 50th in the world by FIFA, making them the seventh-best side in the competition, but tournament hosts always have that extra impetus to go all the way.

Captain Vincent Aboubakar scored both of Cameroon's goals in a 2-1 win over Burkina Faso in their opening match, and victory over Ethiopia – who the Indomitable Lions beat 3-2 in their only previous AFCON encounter in 1970 – will take them through.

Ethiopia are looking to bounce back from their 1-0 loss to Cape Verde. They are winless in their last nine AFCON matches (D3 L6), the longest current such run among teams in this year's competition.

Cameroon, meanwhile, are unbeaten in their previous seven group stage games (W3 D4), last losing in January 2015 (0-1 against Ivory Coast). The five-time champions are aiming to win their opening two games at an AFCON for the first time since 2006. 

One to watch: Vincent Aboubakar

Former Porto forward Aboubakar was Cameroon's Mr Reliable with two penalties in their comeback win over Burkina Faso. Having now scored in his last two AFCON appearances, he will become the first player to net in three consecutive games in the tournament for the Indomitable Lions since Samuel Eto'o in January 2008 (five in total) if he scores on Thursday.

 

Cape Verde v Burkina Faso (19:00 GMT)

While most of the attention will be on Cameroon, Cape Verde can also book their passage on Thursday.

Cape Verde saw off Ethiopia thanks to Julio Tavares' first-half goal, while Burkina Faso were downed by Aboubakar's two penalties in the space of eight minutes.

This will be the first AFCON encounter between the nations, with Cape Verde looking to remain unbeaten in their opening two games for the third straight tournament, having also done so in their two previous participations (two draws in both 2013 and 2015).

Burkina Faso, meanwhile, are looking to avoid suffering consecutive defeats in a single edition of the tournament since 2012, when they lost all three group matches.

With four of the best-ranked third-placed teams progressing to the knockout stage, Burkina Faso will surely go all out for victory to put themselves firmly in contention despite their opening defeat to Cameroon.

One to watch: Gustavo Sangare (Burkina Faso)

Sangare marked his AFCON debut with the opener against Cameroon and was a standout performer, creating a game-leading four chances. No Burkina Faso player has scored in successive AFCON matches since Alain Sibiri Traore in January 2013.

 

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.

After delays, postponements and date changes aplenty, the Africa Cup of Nations will finally start on Sunday, as hosts Cameroon take on Burkina Faso.

Group A will also pit Ethiopia and Cape Verde against each other on the opening day, with both eyeing up the possibility of staking their claim for a qualification spot behind favourites Cameroon.

But, as may have been expected of a tournament that has had more than its fair share of issues in the build-up, another problem has reared its head on the eve of the big kick-off.

Cameroon v Burkina Faso (16:00 GMT)

Burkina Faso are questioning the validity of the COVID-19 testing that was done on their squad, with "four or five" players and head coach Kamou Malo returning positive results.

They claim an unknown medical team turned up at their hotel to test the team and staff, but they refused to take them after the African Football Confederation (CAF) confirmed the people who had showed up were not sent by tournament organisers.

When the CAF delegation did show up, four positive tests came back and one was inconclusive, with Burkina Faso now demanding new swabs be taken.

Captain Bertrand Traore told reporters: "It's a scandal, we cannot be deprived of first-team players 24 hours before the match.

"The authorities must review the organisation. We cannot accept this decision. We can redo tests of our positive players."

Either way, Cameroon know the pressure is on for them to claim a sixth AFCON title, with this their first tournament as hosts in 50 years.

One to watch: Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa (Cameroon)

AFCON has never been short of flair players, and in Zambo Anguissa Cameroon have a player really capable of getting fans off their feet. The Napoli man is a fascinating midfielder to watch due to his ability running with the ball. In Serie A this season, his 65.9 per cent dribble success is bettered by only seven midfielders (min. 25 dribble attempts, 500 minutes played), playing an important role in getting the Partenopei out of tight situations and onto the front foot.

 

Ethiopia v Cape Verde (19:00 GMT)

Four of the six teams to finish third in their group will go through to the next stage, so while that takes away some of the jeopardy for the best teams, it also provides more of a chance for those nations who would not otherwise expect to get far.

With Ethiopia and Cape Verde avoiding Cameroon on matchday one, both will fancy their chances of getting off to a positive start – and three points could be all they need to qualify as one of the best third-placed teams.

Cape Verde have been impacted by a COVID-19 outbreak, though, with coach Roberto Lopes among those infected.

Ethiopia are seemingly in better shape, with coach Wubetu Abate keen to show off their gifted young players.

"We respect our opponents, but we are confident in our talent," he said. "Our goal is not to just participate, but to show the world that Ethiopia has young talented players who can surprise."

One to watch: Amanuel Gebremichael (Ethiopia)

Ethiopia lost talisman – and one of just two foreign-based players – Shimelis Bekele to injury, meaning they will need others to step up. Most of the goalscoring burden is on the shoulders of Getaneh Kebede, but Gebremichael has a skillset that should make him a threat, boasting plenty of speed and the ability to get in behind defences.

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