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AFCON 2023 Best Player Of Tournament Contenders: Lookman, Haller, Ekong Leads

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The 2023 AFCON Best Player of the Tournament is set to ignite debate. The two finalists are most likely to produce the winner after Sunday’s game Sports Brief looks at some of the leading contenders as things stand.…CONTINUE READING

The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations is on its homestretch with Nigeria and the hosts Ivory Coast the remaining teams to battle it out for the title.

Nigeria beat a troublesome South Africa in the penalty shoot-outs while Ivory Coast saw off DR Congo to set up a repeat of the group stage clash, which the Super Eagles won.

Any player will tell you that the collective honours come first as most of them target their first silverware in national team colours. However, after the February 11 final, CAF will fete a couple of players individual honours.

AFCON Golden Ball winners

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Top of the bunch will be the best player of the tournament, who will be given the Golden Ball. A quick check by Sports Brief shows that players whose teams have won the title are always in good standing to win the award.

Losing finalists have also, in the past, won the award, with Christian Atsu (Ghana 2015) and Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso 2013) being the most recent examples. There have been three cases of bronze medalists winning the award: Jay-Jay Okocha (Nigeria 2004), Kalusha Bwalya (Zambia 1996), and Hassan El-Shazly (Egypt 1963).

We have only had two cases of a player whose team finished fourth being declared the best player of the tournament – Aziz Bouderbala (Morocco 1988) and Laurent Pokou (Ivory Coast 1970). No player has ever won the award if his team didn’t reach the semi-finals.

AFCON 2023 Best Player candidates

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In light of the above, it is safe to assume that a player from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, South Africa or DR Congo will be in line to replace Sadio Mane. Sports Brief looks at the leading contenders ahead of the Sunday final.

5. Victor Osimhen – Nigeria

The reigning African Player of the Year hasn’t scored as much as he would have liked to, but he has been instrumental nonetheless in Jose Peseiro’s approach.

The Napoli forward incessant work rate has won Nigeria two penalties, provided an assist and scored once. A lifetime performance in the final could propel him to the award.

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4. Franck Kessie – Ivory Coast

After initially being dropped by interim manager Emerse Fae for the clash against Senegal, the former Barcelona man has returned to the fold to be the leading light of the Elephants.

Ivory Coast’s pathetic group-stage campaign will work against him, but his displays against Senegal (off the bench), Mali and DR Congo (Man of the Match) put him in good standing among all the Ivorian players.

3. Ademola Lookman – Nigeria

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Despite Ademola Lookman missing a couple of decent opportunities, he is still the leading goalscorer of the remaining teams.

With three goals to his name, the Atalanta forward can bridge the gap between him and the topscorer Emilio Nsue in the final game. Zambia’s Christopher Katongo was the last player to win both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball.

2. Stanley Nwabali – Nigeria

You will have to go back to 1968 when DR Congo’s Kazadi Mwamba became the first and only goalkeeper to date to win AFCON’s best player award.

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Nwabali has demanded that Nigerian and African football fans take cognizance of him with impeccable goalkeeping. He leads the goalkeepers in clean sheets. His two saves in the shoot-out against South Africa helped his side progress.

So much for someone who had ‘not been tested’ before.

1.  William Troost-Ekong – Nigeria

Leader. Captain. Goalscorer.

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In tournaments like these, all the plaudits tend to go to the goalscorers and marquee stars. But Troost-Ekong has redefined Nigeria’s campaign, sitting in the middle of Peseiro’s three-man defence. They have only conceded twice in the whole tournament, one from the penalty spot.

Up front, he has scored two penalties, both in critical times, to keep his country’s quest for a first AFCON title since 2013 going. If Nigeria beat Ivory Coast on Sunday and Troost-Ekong has another decent game, it is hard to see why he shouldn’t win the award.

Cameroon great Rigobert Song is the last defender to win the award.
Other mentions

The aforementioned players must have a really pathetic game in the final for a South African player, or DR Congo have a look-in at the award. In the unlikely case, it happens, Ronwen Williams and Teboho Mokoena have been outstanding for Bafana Bafana, while Chancel Mbemba has led from the front for Fimbu.

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Sebastien Haller, Ademola Lookman, Victor Osimhen, AFCON 2023, Stanley Nwabali, William Troost-Ekong,

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