As we celebrate the motherland’s continental tournament, let’s have a look at the players who followed their hearts and chose to feature at the Africa Cup Of Nations.

It has been almost three years since the last time we visited Africa for its celebration of local football – When Algeria won the tournament that took place in Egypt.

This time, now occurring as usual during the winter while all the other football leagues in Europe are at full pace, we move our focus all the way to Cameroon to have a look at the great stars that will shine at the Africa Cup Of Nations.

Having the Euros 2021 played before the African Cup of Nations, we had a chance to witness all of its great talents playing at the same tournament and all the diversity each national squad consists of.

While some of the biggest superstars chose to play for European national teams instead of blessing us and their native African nations by joining us for this festive and colorful time of the year, lets shed some light at those who picked their roots and heart over fame and comfort – The ones who chose Africa.

Playing for African national teams is a tough task for players who were raised in Europe – Where the flights, facilities and weather are way short then ideal.

Moreover, the tournament usually occurs during the winter while all the main European football leagues have their holiday break, and main players who play in multiple other tournaments with their football clubs could reach an amount of 70+ games through the season, and we know from previous years that this amount of gametime could lead to serious injuries and decrease in their level of football.

Taking all these facts into account and bearing in mind that most players who has a chance to play for any European international football team would pick them eventually, let’s have a tour around the continent and look for those who chose this set of values and followed their heart all the way to Cameroon, let’s celebrate Africa.


And what is a better way to start if not with the crowning champions of the tournament? The Fennec Foxes took Egypt by storm in 2019, beating the Senegalese international team for their second continental trophy in Cairo.

Since then, the Algerians enjoyed a great period with a lot of local players floating the European market and the winning the Arab Cup in Qatar last December.

The Desert Foxes are known for their connection to France due to it being a French colony in the past, with lots of players on both international teams having the ability to choose between the two of them.

Ismaël Bennacer

Leading the way with AFCON 2019 MVP, Ismaël Bennacer is one of the most promising talents to bless us with his appearance this year.

AC Milan’s 24 years old midfielder joined the club after a brilliant spell at Empoli and a great tournament in Egypt, where he led the Fennec foxes’ midfield to glory.

Bennacer started his football career by playing for one of the greatest football clubs in London – Arsenal, and from a young age drew a lot of attention due to his dribbling skills and vision off and on the ball.

The call up from the French international youth obviously came at the age of 17, although after 11 caps he chose to follow his parental roots and switched nationalities so he could represent Algeria.

Since then he wore the Algerian kit for 35 times, netting twice and assisting Baghdad Bounedjah's match-winning goal that secured the trophy in Egypt.

Yacine Brahimi

Moving from a prodigy to a complete veteran, Brahimi’s story is basically the story of the hole nation of Algeria.

This Fennec Fox was born and raised in Paris and came through the ranks of Paris Saint Germain’s youth teams, although his strength and skills were not satisfying enough for the Parisian club and never wore the PSG kit.

Moving to Rennes at the age of 17, Yacine got his first chance of professional football and even received multiple calls for the French international youth teams.

After for years of playing for the French side, Granada from the La Liga bought him for 4 million Euros, only so they could sell him to Portuguese giants Porto for a total amount of 8 million Euros.

Representing the Blue Dragons, Brahimi went on the cap 215 appearances, including 39 in the Champions league and Europa league, and scoring a total of 54 goals in for the club.

Right now the veteran winger is playing for Qatar’s side Al Rayyan, joining forces with the likes of James Rodrigues and Lorient Blanc.

As was said earlier, Yacine capped an impressive amount of 49 games for the French international youth teams, scoring 15 goals during those appearances.

Even though he was considered as one of the most promising talents in French during the end of the first decade of the 21th century, he went on to represent the Algerian side and had a wonderful career with the Fennecs, including 62 appearances and 14 goals, multiple AFCON call ups and most importantly being a massive part of Algeria’s campaign in the 2014 FIFA world cup in Brasil, where he even managed to score his first international goal.


Shifting away from one French colony to another and moving geographically 3,345 kilometers to the south, we can find a real dark horse in the Gabon national football team.

The Panthers field a hungry squad of brilliant players, both are local stars and international talents, and their aim is to reach the highest levels of the tournament after reaching the quarter – finals in AFCON 2012.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Being a small country without a lot of resources, Gabon saw a great generation of footballers growing up in the start of the last decade.

The brightest gem between all of those stars and the greatest goal scorer in the Gabonese national team history is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Growing up in small French football clubs, Auba was monitored by some big European clubs for his unbelievable pace, finishing skills and exciting dribbling technique, and sealed a move to AC Milan’s academy at a young age.

Seeking first team action, the striker went on for 4 different loan spells in French clubs, when the last one – Saint-Étienne, bought him for 2 million Euros.

He went on and had an amazing spell there including two seasons with over then 15 goals and 5 assists and also a French league cup trophy.

After three seasons wearing at the greens, Auba moved to Giant German side Borussia Dortmund for 15 million Euros, where he is being considered as one of the greatest strikers in the clubs history to this day.

The striker has 98 Goals in 144 appearances, he also won one DFB-Pokal cup and two super cups. Right now Auba plays for English side Arsenal, where he managed to score an amount of 68 goals in 128 games and terrify every defence across the country with his unbelievable pace.

Not surprisingly, Aubameyang was called up to play for the French international youth teams and had 4 appearances, before he chose to leave it all behind and switched nationalities to play for Gabon.

Pierre is an amazing attacker who could easily be an important part of the French side, he is a great example for the next generation of native African footballers.


From a smaller country to one of the biggest and definitely one of the strongest national teams across Africa, the Super Eagles of Nigeria have always been one of the most exciting nationalities in AFCON during the years and more importantly, been a great representative of the continent by qualifying to five of the last six world cup tournaments with three visits at the round of 16.

While most of Africa’s international teams has been mainly influenced by countries like Franch and Spain due to them being closer to Africa and their history as colonial countries, Nigeria is unique because of the connection it holds with Great Britain.

A lot of the super eagles squad members throughout the history has gained their football skills and philosophy by growing up in England, including some legends like Ayegbeni Yakubu, John Obi Mikel and Obefemi Martins.

Alex Iwobi

Once again starting our story with Arsenal’s marvelous football academy (do you see a pattern?), Alex was born in Lagos and moved to London at the age of 4 following his famous uncle Jay-Jay Okocha.

Graduate of the Gunners football school, Iwobi had his debut the age of 17 and went on to have 149 appearances while scoring 15 goals and also lifted the FA cup once before securing a move to Everton for the sum of 35 million euros at 2019.

With the Toffees, he went on to score just 6 goals in 68 games but has a great impact in a team full of exciting midfielders.

Alex got the call up for England’s youth teams and totaled 11 appearances for the three lions before switching his nationalities and choosing the Super Eagles instead, with them he managed to score 9 goals in an impressive amount of 53 games and a third place in AFCON 2019.

Ola Aina

Until now we have discussed players who actually went on and had a chance to pull on the national shirt of their European nationality, but Ola Aina is another case.

Growing up in London, Ola signed for Chelsea’s youth academy at the age of 11 and instantly became a sensation at the wing back position.

Then a young prodigy, Aina went on to captain both Chelsea’s youth teams and England’s youth teams to glory and was considered as one of the most promising prospects for the future of English football.

Following a couple of injuries after his debut game with Chelsea’s senior team, Ola was left to play for the reserve team by Jose Mourinho.

After four years that included 2 loan spells, the wing back chose to move abroad and left the Blues to join Torino for the Serie A.

While playing there, Aina scored his first senior goal and capped 78 appearances and is now having another loan spell with Championship side Fulham, where he might qualify to the Premier League at the end of the year.

Ola obviously chose to represent Nigeria because he is not qualified enough to play for the Three Lions, but his story is still short from ending and the Ola is a very though player, don’t be surprised to hear good news about him in the future.


Being last AFCON’s runner ups, with superstars like Sadio Mane, Kalidou Koulibaly and Benjamin Mendy, the Senegalese international team obviously ranks high by anyone who’s keeping tabs on the African football scene.

The lions of Teranga saw their golden generation qualify to the last FIFA world cup tournament for the second time in their history, achieving great goals for the nation after 16 years of missing the venue.

Abdou Diallo

Born and raised in France, Abdou was scouted and captured by Monaco’s great youth academy, where he made his professional debut at the age of 18 and although being a very interesting prospect at the time, the French champions at the time chose to sell him to German side Mainz.

After a year and 27 appearances, the defender was bought by Borussia Dortmund for 30 million euros, which didn’t stop BVB from sending him away a year later to French giants Paris Saint-Germain for 35 million euros.

Diallo went on for 47 appearances, a Ligue 1 winners medal contributed a lot to PSG’s runner up season in the Champions league.

The defender captained Les Bleus youth sides through all the ages groups, capping 61 appearances as a Frenchman but since getting the call up from the Senegal national football team, he changed his nationality and went on to be a major part of the lions’ great generation.

Ivory Coast:

One of Africa’s greatest developer of talents and one of the most famous national teams coming from the continent, Les Éléphants are aiming for nothing but glory at AFCON 2021 after their loss to Algeria at the quarter finals in Cairo two years ago.

The Ivorians ranks high by the bookies and would try to perform in the same level of football some of the nation’s legends like Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Kolo Toure.

Sebastian Haller

The “cool bird” was born France and grew up playing football in the academy of Auxerre FC where he also had his first taste of professional football, before sealing a move to Dutch side Utrecht FC.

In the Netherlands Sebastian showed his unbelievable finishing skills and physics and moved on to Eintracht Frankfurt after two years of playing in the lowlands.

In the Bundesliga Haller showed his real colour by only being outscored during his time by Robert Lewandowski and winning the local cup.

He became famous throughout Europe and two years later moved to Londoner giants West Ham for a huge sum of 50 million Euros which made some of the Irons fans ask questions.

During his year in England Haller didn’t match his expectations and after two years the cool bird flew back to the Netherlands, this time joining two times champions league winners Ajax just earlier this season.

Playing under Erik Ten Hag must have inspired the Ivorian because Seba has 35 goals in 47 appearances already for his new Dutch side and he is the leading scorer of the champions league campaign with 10 goals so far. Quite impressive.

Sebastian wasn’t viewed as a generational talent at the start of his career although capping over then 50 appearances for France’s national youth teams and representing them at the U-19 world cup.

When the call up from the elephants came the striker didn’t think twice and he will try to lead them to glory. Haller could easily fit in the French national team today due to the raise of his popularity throughout Europe.

Future Stars:

By now we would be able to say that the African - European connection is bringing a lot of talents to the motherland’s celebration of football.

Nevertheless, looking forward some international teams are expecting some exciting footballers with bright future to join them, some would even participate at this AFCON too.

Hannibal Mejbri

This golden boy, and I’m not just referring for his magnificent blonde curls, is ripping it right now at Manchester United u23 team.

Born in France, Hannibal drew attention immediately due to his great dribbling and passing skills, gaining him a contract with French giants Monaco FC.

After a year with the French side and not receiving first call up, the talent opted for a move and chose British giants Manchester United’s famous academy as his favorite location.

The 18 years old made his first and only senior debut against Wolves last season and is really impressing the Red Devils coaching stuff.

Eligible to represent Tunisia due to his parents connection, with his father being a former Tunisian international player, young Mejbri chose to go with his roots and has already participated in the last Arab Cup and was nominated as the best young player of the tournament.

Adil Aouchiche

In Adil we have another French talent who holds the possibility to play for the Algerian national team.

The brilliant playmaker was born and raised in Paris, growing up at PSG’s academy the French prodigy has drew scouts from all over Europe to witness his great scoring and vision attributes.

After wearing the PSG shirt for only three times, the 19 years old grew frustrated with the giant’s project and opted for a move to Saint-Etienne for free, where he is playing regularly and showing his technical skills on a weekly basis.

Aouchiche has impressed a lot of football experts during his games with the French national youth teams when he broke the record for the all-time top scorer of the under 17 Euros from midfield.

Adil is yet to choose his senior national team but a lot of sources suggests it will chose the Algerians over the blues, so keep an eye for him.

Youssoufa Moukoko

This might be a big shot, when two times CL winner and African legend Samuel Eto’o is trying to convince the brightest gem of German football to join the Cameroon national team, things might get spicy.

Growing up playing for FC St. Pauli and then with Borussia Dortmund, the unbelievable talent impressed at every age group he played with and was even called for the German giant’s first team at the age of 16.

As for now he is the youngest player to ever play and score in the Bundesliga and Champions League.

*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to AP Photo*

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