Cairo. The 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations ended yesterday with the final between Senegal and Algeria. The first summer tournament was one of the best in terms of quality on field. It was also the seventh Afcon I have covered. A few of my colleague Mark Gleeson (South Africa) and Boubacar Khalifa (Senegal) are way ahead with 15 Afcons to their names. Last weekend they were recognized by the International Sports Press Association (AIPS).
Back on the field, during the one month of football, 552 players from 24 countries have taken part.
Choosing my best players, not necessarily best X1, has been hard and not often you name the best without a keeper. It’s exactly what I have done. The Egypt and Algeria keepers Mohamed Elshenawy and Rais Mbolhi respectively had a good tournament but I have not included them.
I have gone for six Algerians, two from Senegal and another two from Egypt plus a Moroccan. They are not in order of preference.
Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)
Being named captain has upped his game. He has been more involved in team play than previously. In the past he never enjoyed good form in Desert Foxes colours. In this tournament he has led from the front, scoring three goals including a stunning free kick in the semis against Nigeria. He has done enough to be crowned the best in the tournament.
Sadio Mane (Senegal)
A key player for the side along defender Koulibaly. He has scored three goals despite missing two penalties and opening group match following suspension he received in group stage. His acceleration going forward has left defenders scratching their heads.
Ismail Bennacer (Algeria)
Was voted by Caf the best player of the group stage. He won the Man of the Match award two times against Senegal and Kenya. His performance is what Arsenal misses when they let him go in 2015 to Empoli in Serie A. His performance in semi against Nigeria should have earned him another accolade if it was not for Mahrez strike. He was the one fouled for the free kick. He is part of the quartet in midfield with Guedioura, Feghouli and Youcef Belaili.
Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria)
He is the second member of the quartet in the centre of the pack who have starred for the Foxes. He operates both on right and as an attacking midfielder. His interchange with Bennacer has confused the opponents which has given them edge in majority of matches.
Mohamed Salah (Egypt) He again showed his class and brilliance despite lacking quality around him. His two goals were all class. You could understand his frustrations at times because of lack of service. He was expected to carry the burden of the team but they fell to a shock 1-0 defeat by South Africa. Unsurprisingly, the Liverpool star forward was in the center of all the criticism.
Achraf Hakimi (Morocco) Like Atal of Algeria on the right, Hakimi galloped down the left to set up chances for his team mates. He even overshadowed Hakim Ziyech who was supposed to be one of the stars of Afcon.
Mahmoud Trezeguet (Egypt) Along with Salah are the face of the Pharaohs. Both operated on different wings and found it easier to cut inside for a goal. His opening goals against Zimbabwe in the opener is a typical example.
Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal) The rock-solid centre-back, virtually unbeatable in a duel, good in the air, a variety of long range passes and far away the best active African defender and proved in the tournament where they have let only one goal. He missed the final due to suspension.
Adlène Guedioura (Algeria) He has shielded the defence, controlled the midfield and allowed the other three midfielders to adventure forward. No wonder they have conceded one goal in open play against Ivory Coast.
Youcef Belaili (Algeria) He operates mainly on the left and his goal against Guinea in round of 16 which he initiated from deep shows his quality and why he is the only member of the side who playa in Africa. The final jigsaw of the quartet.
Youcef Atal (Algeria)
Was ruled out of the tournament after suffering fractured collarbone in the last eight match against Ivory Coast. Until then he was one of the stars, providing a constant attacking threat down the right-hand side of the pitch.