Profiling players who have gone from being relatively unknown to superstars at the recently concluded AFCON 2021.
The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations has come to an end and Senegal emerged champions after defeating Egypt on penalty shootouts.
While many of the expected superstars like Sadio Mane, Vincent Aboubakar, Achraf Hakimi etc lived up to the billing, there were a few superstar performances from players nobody saw coming.
Egyptian goalkeeper, Mohamed Abou Gabal known popularly by his nickname, Gabaski has undoubtedly been the best goalkeeper at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
The 33-year old Zamalek goalkeeper was only a reserve through the group stage and only got a chance in the team when Mohamed El Shenawy got injured in the Round of 16 against Ivory Coast.
He proved to be a safe pair of hands in the closing two minutes of regulation time in that game and then extra time before then saving Eric Bailly’s penalty to help Egypt win the shootout.
Mohamed Gabaski Abou Gabal stopped two of Cameroon three penalties in their semifinal clash
Before that game against Ivory Coast, Gabaski had only three caps for Egypt since making his debut 11 years ago. He would go on to play four games at AFCON 2021, more national team appearances in 11 days than in the previous 11 years of his career.
Gabaski’s heroics in all four games he played made deservedly the story of the tournament. He was solid in goal against Morocco in the quarterfinals and was the hero once again in the semifinal penalty shootout against Cameroon.
His best display was undoubtedly in the final against Senegal where he saved Sadio Mane’s 4th-minute penalty and followed it with many other saves to keep the Egyptians in the game and into extra time again.
Gabaski denies Mane in the best chance of the game in normal time.
Gabaski save another penalty in the shootout and was named the man of the match in defeat for the Egyptians but he can certainly hold his head up high for his displays.
Ablie Jallow has scored two of the goals of the tournament so far to help debutants Gambia reach the last 16
One of the stars of Gambia’s stellar AFCON debut campaign, Ablie Jallow came into the tournament as a relative unknown but ended it with two important goals and a massive boost in reputation.
Jallow scored two goals in four appearances at AFCON 2021, matching his previous total of two goals in 12 appearances for Gambia before the AFCON.
Jallow scored in 1-0 wins against Mauritania and Tunisia in the group stage and was unavailable for the quarter-final clash with Cameroon which they lost 2-0.
Malawi hero, Gabadinho Mhango.
Only Karl Toko-Ekambi (5) and Vincent Aboubakar (8) scored more than Gabadinho Mhango at AFCON 2021, which is rather impressive by the Malawian striker.
Even more impressive is the fact that the 29-year old was the only Malawian player to score at this tournament with three goals in three appearances to usher his team to a round of 16 berth.
Add to that the fact that Mhango could also nd up winning the goal of the tournament award for that cracker of a goal against Morocco makes him even more relevant to this list.
Mohamed Kamala won the first Man of the Match award by a goalkeeper
Sierra Leone were one of the big stories of the group stage thanks to their goalkeeper Mohamed Kamara even though they did not make it to the knockout rounds.
The 22-year old announced himself to the world with a man of the match performance to earn Sierra Leone that big result against Algeria.
Kamara followed that with a penalty save in the next game against Ivory Coast and ultimately played a key role in earning them another point.
Kamara announced himself to the world as a competent shot-stopper and sweeper keeper by displaying his wide array of abilities.
Burkina Faso youngster, Dango Ouattara.
Burkina Faso’s 19-year old winger, Dango Ouattara had only played one game for his country as a substitute before AFCON 2021.
His first start came against Gabon in the round of 16 where he notched an assist and then scored the only goal in the next round against Tunisia.
Although he got an unnecessary red card in that game, his performances through the tournament can only be described as electric.
A typical quick, skilful winger, the nightmare matchup for any full-back, Dango is still only 19 and can only get better.