The AFCON semi-finals kick off live on Sky Sports on Wednesday with an abundance of talent on show – but which players could, and should, attract interest from Premier League clubs?
Nigeria face South Africa in the 5pm kick-off, having won all three previous meetings at past Cup of Nations finals, the last in the 2019 quarter-final in Cairo.
Hosts Ivory Coast are fancied to continue their remarkable revival at the tournament and ride a frenzied wave of home support as they seek a place in the final with victory over the DR Congo in the 8pm game.
Ahead of the showdowns, Sky Sports has teamed up with leading sports intelligence agency Twenty First Group (TFG) to match the top prospects at the tournament with Premier League clubs, based on playing style and profiles.
Semi-finalists’ star players
Nigeria: Ademola Lookman
South Africa: Teboho Mokoena
Congo DR: Arthur Masuaku
Ivory Coast: Franck Kessie
First up, who’s performed at the tournament so far?
The TFG rankings place DR Congo left-back Arthur Masuaku – formerly of West Ham – top of the pack.
Angola winger Gelson Dala sits in runner-up spot, ahead of numerous semi-finalists in the top 10, including Ademola Lookman (Nigeria), Teboho Mokoena (South Africa), Calvin Bassey (Nigeria), Aubrey Modiba (South Africa), Yoane Wissa (DR Congo) and Frank Onyeka (Nigeria).
Which AFCON prospects suit PL teams?
Factoring in all players aged 24 or under, the data wizards at TFG matched every prospect at the tournament with their most suitable Premier League club.
Morocco and Genk teenage winger Bilal El Khannouss registers the highest suitability score and is matched with reigning Premier League champions Manchester City, with an estimated value of £22.1m.
Wednesday 7th February 7:45pm
Next up is Ivory Coast stopper Yahia Fofana, who could give Crystal Palace ‘keeper Sam Johnstone a run for his money, according to the data – registering a 96 per cent match with the Eagles and an estimated transfer fee of only £2.6m.
Tunisia winger Mohamed Achouri is also paired perfectly with Roy Hodgson’s side and would provide injury cover for their talismanic attackers Michael Olise and Ebere Eze.
In terms of semi-finalists, Wolves are matched with Nigeria and Nice striker Teremas Moffi (£27.9m), while Ivory Coast and Roma centre-back Evan Ndicka (£42.4m) is matched with Spurs.
The data predicts Rocky Bushiri (Congo and Hibernian, £700,000) and Karim Konate (Ivory Coast and RB Salzburg, £27.9m) would slot into Everton’s ranks perfectly, while Samuel Chukwueze (Nigeria and AC Milan, £38.3m) would hit the ground running at Aston Villa.
Use the interactive table below to find which prospects would suit Premier League clubs and their estimated transfer value.
But which players provide the best value for money? Well, the scatter chart below plots AFCON U24 players’ projected form rating over the next two years against their estimated annual salary and Ivory Coast star Ousmane Diomande emerges as the bargain buy – and he’s matched with Pep Guardiola’s juggernauts.
The 20-year-old centre-back, who plies his trade with Sporting in Portugal, is estimated to cost just £1.7m in annual wages, with an estimated transfer fee of £30.5m, while he is also projected to develop more than any other player over the next two years (displayed by point size in the chart below).
Who’s going to win it?
So, who’s going to win the tournament? Well, with a combined value of £351m and an average career rating of 625 for squad players, Ivory Coast are certainly frontrunners. However, Emerse Fae’s side have recorded a tournament-low 72-per-cent performance score so far.
In contrast, South Africa‘s squad is estimated to be worth one-fifth of Ivory Coast’s value at just £69m, but the underdogs have battled through to the penultimate round with a table-topping performance score of 89 per cent.
Factoring in those insights, TFG predicts Ivory Coast are still on course for their first tournament win since 2015 with a 34 per cent probability, followed by Nigeria (25 per cent), DR Congo (22 per cent) and South Africa (19 per cent) – who had started the tournament with a meagre three per cent chance of going all the way.
Optimal teams to win semi-finals?
We have cobbled together the optimal starting XI for each semi-finalist, based on players’ tournament rankings so far. We’ve also annotated any U24 starters who match with a Premier League club and highlighted each team’s star player at the tournament.
So, how should the teams look on Wednesday?
Well, here’s a surprise: former Everton forward and Nigeria’s standout player at the tournament Lookman starts up top, replacing Chelsea target Victor Osimhen – but the Napoli striker is doubtful to face South Africa with stomach pains.
The data suggests Fulham ball-playing defender Calvin Bassey matches with Manchester City’s style of play, while AC Milan winger Chukwueze could be perfect for Villa.
Tournament underdogs South Africa have three Ms in their side to watch out for: central midfielder and star player Teboho Mokoena, who plays for his native Mamelodi Sundowns, while winger Thapelo Maseko (Mamelodi Sundowns) and striker Evidence Makgopa (Orlando Pirates) match with Luton.
There are few surprises with former AC Milan and Barcelona midfield maestro Franck Kessie ranking as Ivory Coast’s star player but four team-mates are matched with Premier League clubs: defenders Wilfried Singo (Brighton, £25m), Ndicka (Tottenham, £42m) and Odilon Kossounou (Fulham, £24m), in addition to goalkeeper Fofana (Crystal Palace, £3m).
Masuaku is DR Congo’s main man going into their showdown with South Africa on Wednesday evening, with Brentford forward Yoane Wissa not far behind the former West Ham full-back in the performance ratings.