AFCON 2021: Football256 team of the tournament

By Allan Damba
Vincent Aboubakar (M) celebrates one of his two goals against Ethiopia | CAF Image

The 2021 Cameroon Africa Cup of Nations climaxed on Sunday at the Olembe Stadium, with Senegal the eventual victors securing their first in history after two failed attempts; in 2002 and 2019.

However, several players put in incredible team and individual shifts since the start of the tournament on January 9 to deserve a place in Football256.com‘s best eleven.

Goalkeeper: Mohamed Abou Gabal ‘Gabaski’ – Egypt

Despite only being a second-choice goalkeeper for the Pharaohs behind Mohamed El Shenawy, the 33-year-old has been nothing short of heroics.

The Zamalek custodian only came on for the injured Shenawy against Ivory Coast in the round of 16 but, he was the hero after saving Eric Bailly’s penalty as the Egyptians squeezed through to the quarterfinals on a 5-4 shootout win.

He would later make three top-class saves versus Morocco at the last eight as his nation went on to master a 2-1 victory after extra time.

In the semifinals against Cameroon, Gabaski saved Jean Lea Siliki and Harold Moukoudi’s penalties to send Egypt to the final. 

Against Senegal, he denied Sadio Mane’s penalty earlier on in the first half, produced a string of world-class stops, saved Bouna Sarr’s penalty in the spot-kicks and named the man of the match in the final.

He virtually dragged Egypt to the edge and to the cusps of a record eighth AFCON title which they were unlikely going to reach had it not been for his heroics.

Special mention goes to Senegal’s Edouard Mendy and Cameroon’s Andre Onana, all of whom put up incredible performances to see their sides lift the trophy and emerge third respectively.

Center-back: Edmond Tapsoba – Burkina Faso

The Burkina Faso defender has been arguably the best defender of the tournament after mastering a string of impressive defensive displays in the five games he played before getting eliminated by Senegal at the semifinals.

Despite managing just one clean sheet, the Bayer Leverkusen player has been superb with his game-reading, calmness on the ball, aerial presence and all-round game earning him praise at the tournament.

He also helped his nation finish fourth out of the 24 nations that took part.

Center-back: Micheal Ngadeu Ngadjui – Cameroon

A mainstay in the Indomitable Lions’ team, Ngadeu has played 90 minutes in all of his side’s matches at the tournament bar the third-place playoff where he was rested.

He has not only been consistent but also been brilliant at his job with good aerial presence, incredible game reading and physicality.

Right-back: Achraf Hakimi – Morocco

The PSG defender was Morocco’s best player, albeit, operating from the defence.

Despite being superb defensively, it was his attacking mojo that caught the eye most as he was the team’s biggest threat in the final third, from the right-wing.

He also scored two stunning freekicks against Gabon and Malawi, he in the process earned himself the ‘best right-back in the world’ status from his PSG teammate, Kylian Mbappe.

Left-back: Saliou Ciss – Senegal

The Nancy defender has been a pillar in the Lions of Teranga’s backline that has kept five clean sheets in the seven games played, conceding just twice in the process.

He has not only been sound defensively but in attack as well, linking well with Sadio Mane on the left side of the pitch and causing defences trouble.

He won the penalty that Sadio Mane missed earlier in the final and was dangerous throughout. He coolly scored his penalty in the decisive kicks to help Senegal to their first Cup.

Defensive midfield: Idrissa Gana Gueye – Senegal

The pivot and axis of the Senegalese national team in their road to their first-ever glory, Gana Gueye has been the definition of consistency and brilliance.

He has not only shielded his backline but also been key in initiating attacks for the Lions of Teranga, earning himself the ‘Football256’s Midfielder of the Tournament.’

Attacking Midfield: Musa Barrow – Gambia

Despite only scoring two goals against Mali and Guinea at the tournament, the Bologna forward was the engine of Gambia’s fairytale debut campaign.

In their road to the quarterfinals where they were beaten 2-0 by Cameroon, he operated from deep, created his team’s biggest chances and helped in the defensive bits too. His lone goal against Guinea sent them to the last eight as well.

Right-Wing: Mohamed Salah – Egypt

Although he did not show his best individual brilliance as per his standards, the Pharaoh’s skipper has been an outstanding player for his team.

After suffering an opening day 1-0 defeat against Nigeria, he netted Egypt’s only goal as they beat Guinea-Bissau in the next game.

He also scored the decisive penalty as Egypt beat Ivory Coast 5-4 via penalties to secure a quarterfinal slot.

In the last eight, he produced his best performance in this edition, scoring and brilliantly assisting Mohamed Trezeguet as the Egyptians eliminated Morocco by 2-1 after 120 minutes.

He was a first-half menace against Senegal in the final but come not come big enough to lift his first AFCON title, despite hitting the final twice (the first in 2017).

Left-Wing: Sadio Mane – Senegal

The Liverpool forward has been brilliant throughout the tournament managing three goals, and two assists in the seven matches played.

He scored against Zimbabwe for his sides’ only goal of the match in their opening day 1-0 victory.

He decisively scored against both Cape Verde and Burkina Faso in the round of 16, and semifinals respectively as his team reached the final. 

Despite missing an early penalty versus Egypt in the final, coupled with other notable first-half misses, his second-half show was much better as he showcased his creative abilities. He also netted the decisive penalty in the 4-2 shootout win.

Forward: Karl-Toko Ekambi – Cameroon

The forward has been excellent throughout the tournament. Despite almost all attention shifting to teammate Vincent Aboubakar, Ekambi has been the other dangerous player.

He is a creative force, energetic but also a great goalscorer. It is no wonder that he has garnered five goals, one behind Aboubakar. He could not stop the Egyptians from dumping them via a 3-1 penalty win. He was key in helping oust Burkina Faso for a third-place finish.

Forward: Vincent Aboubakar – Cameroon

The hosts’ skipper was virtually unplayable, especially in the group stages, where he bagged five goals in three matches.

Despite his shine dimming as the tournament grew on, the 30-year-old still managed to add three more to take home the golden boot after notching eight goals, guiding his country to third.

Substitutions: 

Edouard Mendy – Senegal

Collins Fai – Cameroon

Ahmed Hegazy – Egypt

Gabadinho Mhango – Malawi

Ibrahima Sangare – Ivory Coast

Nicholas Pepe – Ivory Coast

Moses Simon – Nigeria

Jim Allevinah – Gabon

Aaron Boupendza – Gabon

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