The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations is nearly upon us and to celebrate the international winter tournament we have picked out an all-time best XI featuring some of the most precocious talents to have graced the beautiful game.
Football in Africa has blossomed in recent years and the competition, which will take place from 13th January to 11th February in 2024, now features a number of elite players from the Premier League and all around Europe.
Ivory Coast will play host to the upcoming tournament for the second time and the first since 1984 and Senegal, after their penalty shootout success over Egypt in 2021, are the defending champions.
There are some excellent African keepers at present such as former Chelsea man Edouard Mendy, Manchester United’s Andre Onana and Sevilla shot-stopper Yassine Bounou.
However, the longevity and consistency of Egypt’s Essam El-Hadary makes him first-choice between the sticks.
No player has won more AFCON titles than El-Hadary, who played a pivotal role in Egypt’s successes in 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010 and he was capped 159 times by his nation.
He has been named as the tournament's best keeper on four occasions, most recently in 2017, which was a year before he became the oldest player ever to feature in a World Cup finals at 45 years of age.
A key member of Arsenal’s Invincibles of 2004, Lauren is hard to dislodge at right-back given he is also a two-time AFCON winner with Cameroon.
The Indomitable Lions won the illustrious title in 2000, a year in which they also claimed Olympic gold, and they then defended their crown in 2002.
Lauren retired from international duty aged just 25, having been capped only 24 times, but it was a profitable period and he scored in the penalty shootout victory against Senegal in the 2002 final to retain the trophy.
Wael Gomaa never played in Europe yet to this day he is regarded as one of the best African defenders of all time.
Gomaa, who predominantly plied his trade with Al Ahly for 13 years, was the defensive rock behind Egypt’s three consecutive Africa Cup of Nations successes in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
The centre-back won 114 caps for his country and retired in 2014 with six CAF Champions League titles to go with his victories at AFCON.
Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly, who guided them to glory in 2021, may in time feature in the AFCON all-time best XI.
However, former Liverpool and West Ham defender Rigobert Song excelled for many years at the heart of Cameroon’s defence and is a must include.
Song wore the captain’s armband when the Indomitable Lions won in 2000 and 2002 and was still marshalling their defence in 2008 when they were beaten by Egypt in the final
The charismatic leader called time on his international career in 2010 with 137 caps and he is the current manager of Cameroon and the uncle of former Arsenal star Alex Song.
Arthur Boka never won the African Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast yet his personal achievements make him a worthy inclusion.
Boka played in the tournament five times and was twice runner-up, losing on penalties to Egypt in 2006 and being beaten by Zambia in 2012.
The flying full-back was also part of the Stuttgart side that were crowned shock Bundesliga champions in 2007.
Like Boka, Yaya Toure twice endured heartbreak in two AFCON finals, playing second fiddle in both 2006 and 2012.
However, at the third time of asking, Toure claimed a winners medal as he captained the Elephants to victory in 2015 - they won 9–8 in a thrilling penalty shootout against Ghana.
Toure was a Champions League winner with Barcelona in 2009 while he also lifted the Premier League on three occasions with Manchester City, where he made 230 appearances.
The versatile Geremi could be deployed just about anywhere across the backline or in midfield and he made seven AFCON squads for Cameroon, winning twice in 2000 and 2002.
Renowned as being a bit of a free-kick specialist, Geremi had a glistening career which also featured winning two Premier League titles with Chelsea, two Champions League crowns with Real Madrid and an Olympic gold as part of the Indomitable Lions.
The flairy and technically gifted Jay-Jay Okocha brought great enjoyment to spectators all across the world, most notably when with Bolton in the Premier League, and he had a successful international career too.
Okocha was part of the Nigerian team that won the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations and 1996 Olympics and while he failed to add to that sole AFCON victory, he did finish runner-up in 2000 and come third in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
Having scored 147 goals in 230 appearances for Liverpool, winning the Champions League and the Premier League, many believe Mohamed Salah is the greatest African player of all time.
The 31-year-old also has 55 goals in 95 caps for Egypt and, while yet to win the Africa Cup of Nations, has twice come close finishing runner-up in 2017 and 2021.
To Egyptians, Salah is known as the "Fourth Pyramid" and on his day the star quality he possesses makes him simply unplayable.
Although best remembered for his exploits at the 1990 World Cup, Roger Milla was a two-time AFCON winner with Cameroon.
The striker helped the Indomitable Lions claim their first AFCON crown in 1984 and he was named player of the tournament when they succeeded again in 1988.
Milla, renowned for his impeccable technique and grace under pressure, was twice named African player of the year in 1976 and 1990 and will always be remembered fondly by Cameroonians.
Samuel Eto'o, a three-time Champions League winner with Barcelona and Inter, is unlucky to miss out.
A teammate of Salah when winning the Champions League and Premier League at Liverpool, Sadio Mane now plays for Al Nassr in the ever-growing Saudi Pro League.
There was a brief stint with Bayern in between Liverpool and Al Nassr and he has been crucial to Senegal’s success in recent years.
The Lions of Teranga were beaten finalists in 2019 but they went one better in 2021 when the winger was named player of the tournament after they defeated Salah's Egypt in the final.
Mane has been capped 100 times by Senegal and has rewarded his fans with 40 goals.