Football: Mahrez heads multi-star Africa Cup cast

Algeria striker Riyad Mahrez is voted African Footballer of the Year after inspiring Leicester City to the English Premier League title last season. (AFP)
Updated 09 January 2017
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Football: Mahrez heads multi-star Africa Cup cast

LIBREVILLEJ: New African Footballer of the Year and Algeria winger Riyad Mahrez tops a cast of stars heading to Gabon this week for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. 
AFP Sport selects five footballers worth keeping a close eye on when the biennial 16-team competition bursts into action this Saturday:
PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (Gabon)
The 27-year-old striker has been averaging a goal a game this season for Borussia Dortmund to top the Bundesliga scorers’ chart going into the mid-season break.
After being crowned 2015 African Footballer of the Year, the France-born son of a Gabonese father and a Spanish mother finished runner-up to lethal Leicester City weapon Mahrez in the latest poll.
He will be desperate to do well for Gabon as his failure to convert a shootout penalty condemned the 2012 Cup of Nations co-hosts to a quarter-finals defeat by Mali.
SERGE AURIER (Ivory Coast)
The 24-year-old Paris-Saint Germain defender was constantly in the media spotlight last year, but many of the headlines he created had little to do with football.
He labelled team-mate Angel Di Maria a “clown,” made homophobic insults against then PSG coach Laurent Blanc, struck a Paris police officer and made a throat-slitting gesture after an Ivory Coast game.
But the right-back was hailed as a hero last November when he saved the life of a Mali opponent in a World Cup qualifier by preventing the injured footballer swallowing his tongue.
ANDRE AYEW (Ghana)
Sidelined by injury for much of this English Premier League season, the absence of the 27-year-old West Ham United midfielder has been sorely felt by misfiring Ghana.
No Ayew meant there was little creativity from the four-time African champions, who have won only one of their last five Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers.
Captain and striker Asamoah Gyan will be particularly happy to see ‘Dede’ back in the national team as his form has been embarrassingly poor, due partly to a lack of quality service.
RIYAD MAHREZ (Algeria)
Being voted 2016 African Footballer of the Year crowned a special spell in the career of the 25-year-old who helped Leicester City to a sensational Premier League title last season.
He was also named Premier League Players’ Player of the Season, BBC African Footballer of the Year and made the FIFA Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or lists too.
But his form, and the results of Leicester and Algeria, have gone off the boil lately, placing pressure on the man who has succeeded Sofiane Feghouli as the football icon of the north African nation.
SADIO MANE (Senegal)
After disastrous 2012 and 2015 Cup of Nations campaigns, success-starved Senegalese supporters hope Liverpool striker Mane can trigger a change in fortunes.
The Teranga Lions lost all three matches five years ago and won only one two years ago as two ventures into central Africa turned sour despite star-stacked squads.
Liverwire attacker Mane, third in the 2016 African Footballer of the Year poll behind Mahrez and Aubameyang, has been consisently impressive for the title-chasing Merseysiders this season.


A HAT-TRICK OF HOPES: What the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be looking for from their friendly

Updated 20 March 2019
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A HAT-TRICK OF HOPES: What the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be looking for from their friendly

  • Can the Whites and Green Falcons find the back of the net more often?
  • Both teams need to set the tone ahead of the important World Cup qualifiers.

LONDON: Ahead of Thursday’s friendly between the UAE and Saudi Arabia Arab News looks at the main priorities for both sides as they embark on their new eras after the Asian Cup and ahead of the all-important the World Cup qualifiers.

FIND THOSE SCORING BOOTS

For the past 18 months both sides have struggled for goals. Under Alberto Zaccheroni the UAE scored just 10 goals in the past nine matches — five of those coming against lowly Kyrgyzstan and India — and likewise the Green Falcons have also struggled to find the back of the net. Heading toward the World Cup qualifiers, now is the time to find those scoring boots.

PUT ON A SHOW

Both sides have technically gifted players, can keep the ball and at times trouble opposition defenses. But both have been too defensive, too safety-first and, at times, too dull. Football is supposed to be entertainment, and the friendlies ahead of the World Cup qualifiers might be no bad time to throw caution to the wind and see what the players can do in the final third.

SET THE TONE

As the modern cliche goes, a week is a long time in football. With all the sackings and player movements, it is not hard to see the kernel of truth in that overused saying. But, conversely, time can also move very fast in the “Beautiful Game.” It may be six months before the World Cup qualifiers begin, but it will be September before the coaches and players know it. Set the tone and tactics now and triumphs will be easier to come by then and, more importantly, further into the future.