Africa Cup of Nations: Shining stars from the tournament so far

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We’ve now seen every side play in the Africa Cup of Nations, and the tight and engrossing ties so far suggest there’ll be no easy ties for heavyweights like Ivory Coast and Algeria this year.

As always, we’ve seen fine finishing, great goalkeeping and tons of late drama right from the start. Here are four of the players impressing so far in Gabon…

Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)

The 25-year-old has struggled to replicate last season’s form for Leicester City, but he seems to be having no such problems for the Desert Warriors, having netted twice in their 2-2 draw against Zimbabwe.

His first was a stunning solo effort, and the second a smart long-range finish. In a game where Algeria were otherwise limp and uninspiring, the Foxes ace single-handedly rescued what could turn out to be a huge point for Georges Leekens’ men.

Oumar Sissoko (Mali)

Mali’s campaign started with a solid 0-0 draw against seven-time AFCON winners Egypt – and it was keeper Sissoko who deserves much of the credit for gaining Les Aigles a share of the spoils.

His acrobatic stop from Marwan Mohsen’s second-half header was one of a number of impressive saves the experienced stopper pulled off. That’s now six clean sheets in the last 13 international outings for the 29-year-old, who is also impressing between the posts for French Ligue 2 outfit Orleans.

Juary Soares (Guinea-Bissau)

The Djurtus defender picked an ideal time to score his first international goal, with his 90th-minute header against hosts Gabon rescuing a point – and securing a first ever goal in major competition for the tiny nation of Guinea-Bissau (population: 1.6 million).

He kept the likes of Mario Lemina and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang quiet for much of this fixture, before his inch-perfect header from Zezinho’s free-kick drew his side level in the dying minutes. Expect him to be very tightly marked from now on!

Keita Balde (Senegal)

The 21-year-old Lazio ace is regarded as one of the top talents in Serie A right now, so it was no surprise to see him running Tunisia’s defence ragged in Senegal’s opener, as Aliou Cisse’s men eased to a 2-0 victory.

Balde’s distribution and pace meant he had the beating of opposition right-back Hamdi Nagguez from minute one, while his inch-perfect corner more or less secured victory when Serigne Mbodji headed home to make it 2-0 after just 29 minutes. Watch this space…

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All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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Dave Burin

Dave graduated with an MA in English Literature at Durham University, and worked in marketing before joining the Ladbrokes News team. A Man United fan and avid groundhopper, he’s also an ardent follower of Rugby League. You can usually find him at a ground near you, clutching a big cup of tea.