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PLAYERS WATCH: Top African Footballers of the week

After the end of a quiet restart of football from where it left off since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, several top-flight European football teams have since then reinforced their teams with quality additions while others just reshuffled their team depth without breaking the bank.

The new football season, however, started with unwavering expectations of high-quality football from club recruits as well as a positive turnaround in overall team performance. 

Amidst all of these new developments, many African players across Europe’s top 5 leagues and beyond have put up stellar performances for their respective teams. With some leagues already at the second stage of their fixture while some just got back into action, here’s a look at how some of the African football stars have performed in the last game week action.

WILFRED NDIDI

Leicester City football club played it out late on Sunday evening against Burnley in a six-goal encounter. Wilfred Ndidi, who plays naturally as a defensive midfielder, was deployed in a more profound defensive role at the heart of Leicester city’s defense, a position he starred in at their first league match against Burnley in their first fixture.

The 23-year-old was paired in the center fullback role alongside defender Caglar Soyuncu as the latter’s partner as team captain Wes Morgan was out injured with a hamstring injury. Wilfred Ndidi put up a spectacular performance in the match to help his side secure their second consecutive win in the 2020/2021 season.

The match started on a high note as Burnley went ahead first with just 10 minutes into the first half. Still, Leicester city responded with a deserved equalizer, and with about 10 minutes left on the clock, Leicester city defense held on tight as they went 4-1 up with a harmonious display of compact defending by Ndidi and his pair in defense. 

Although the match finished 4-2 in favor of Leicester city, Wilfred Ndidi contributed immensely to his side’s victory by making two crucial interceptions and also two clearances from dangerous plays from the opposition. During the game, Ndidi also prevented a goal-bound effort by the opposition by making a vital block. 

That victory meant that for the first time since Leicester city’s title-winning campaign in the 2015/2016 season, Ndidi’s side have now won their first opening two matches, and he has featured in both matches as a center full back by keeping a clean sheet in their 3-0 victory against West Brom in the opening fixture.

SAMUEL CHUKWUEZE

Chukwueze stars in Villarreal first league win of the season

Since signing for Spanish club Villareal in 2018, the prolific youngster and winger have not failed to impress the club, scoring 13 times in all 83 matches he has featured in at the Spanish capital. What puts the 21-year-old Nigerian amongst the ranks is his swift movement, coupled with his topnotch dribbling skills in 2019 likened to that of Barcelona’s forward Lionel Messi. Chukwueze was on target in Villareal’s 2-1 league victory against Eibar in their second league match last weekend as he laid off a sublime assist for forward player Gerard Moreno as his team came from behind to secure their first league win of the season after they were held to a disappointing stalemate in their first outing against newly promoted side Huesca. 

Before Chukwueze was substituted with 5 minutes left on the clock, he laid off three key passes in contribution to the team’s attack and accurate long-range balls that created counter attack options.

IGNATIUS GANAGO

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Another striker that was on the radar for his team last week was Cameroonian forward and youngster Ganago. The 21-year old striker signed for French team Lens FC in 2020 after they secured promotion to the tier 1 French league for the 2020/2021 season. 

Lens played at home to Bordeaux at the weekend in the fourth league match of the season. After a half time goalless stalemate between the two sides, it was Ignatius Ganago who, after several energetic and enthusiastic displays on and off the ball, handed his team the first goal in the match. The Cameroonian was more involved during his stay on the pitch as he laid off several key passes to set up his teammates for goal before he was substituted in the 74th minute of play. 

Ganago made well use of the ball as he held on to play most of the time and winning fouls for his team. The build-up to his goal resulted from his hard-earned effort after he made an interception from loose defending in the opposition’s half and slotted the ball at the back of the net with just 2 minutes into the second half. His team made that victory 3 out of 4 to stand fourth on the Ligue 1 table with 9 points.

SILAS WAMANGITUKA FUNDU

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Congolese professional footballer and striker Silas Fundu plays for German football outfit VfB Stuttgart who just gained promotion to the German Bundesliga in the 2020/2021 season. 

His team played their first league match at home as they welcomed Freiburg at the Mercedes-Benz Arena. VfB Stuggart, who through the past few years has been struggling to cement their presence at the German tier 1 league the german Bundesliga, again fell to defeat at the hand of their opponent this past week. After conceding three early goals just after 48 minutes of play, Stuttgart replied back with a goal, and with 10 minutes left on the clock, Silas Fundu sparked a bit of hope for his side as he fired home beautifully to put the scoreline at 3-2. 

Still seeking for revival to at least secure a draw for his team, his several attempts at goal however didn’t get enough accuracy to earn him the much needed goal. Although his team fell to their first league defeat, at the age of 20, he had the best performance for his team and was man of the match for his losing side.

SADIO MANE

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The Senegalese and Liverpool winger made a tremendous impact and notable contribution to his team’s premier league title-winning campaign in the 2019/2020 season as he scored 18 times in 35 league matches. Last weekend in Liverpool’s second league fixture away to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Sadio Mane was on target as he netted twice in his sides 2-0 victory. 

After capitalizing on an error from Chelsea’s goalkeeper Kepa in the 50th minute, it took Mane just 4 minutes to double his sides lead and put himself on the scoresheet with a brace. His overall performance was accompanied by registering three shots, all of which were on target, and won the man of the match award at the end of the game. His effort saw his team maintain their 100% win record for the new campaign as they have won 2 out of 2 matches.

AMADOU HAIDARA

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22-year-old Malian professional footballer Haidara was on the scoresheet for German outfit RB Leipzig in the season-opening match against Mainz’05 in a 3-1 win. Amadou Haidara signed for RB Leipzig in the 2019 January transfer window, and on featuring for the first time in the senior team, he made a huge first time impression in his team’s victory. Haidara, who plays in the right midfield position, had the best playing time in their win. He recorded a whopping 93% accurate passes in total and complimented with accurate long balls and the oppositions half. 

After 48 minutes of play, RB Leipzig was 2-1 up into the match, leaving them in a comfortable winning position. Just after 3 minutes later, Amadou Haidara sealed the win for his side with a beautiful solo effort right into the bottom corner of the net. He played out the whole 90 minutes of the game and won the man of the match ball as well.

ZAKARIA LABYAD

Dutch league giants Ajax FC continued in their fine form as they recorded another victory last weekend in their second Holland Eredivisie league match against RKC Waalwijk. Moroccan professional footballer Zakaria was also in top form as he made an immense contribution to his sides 3-0 victory with a goal and several other top-notch performances. 

Ajax FC went early into the lead in the 10th minute of play through a subtle finish from Dusan Tadic. With just 4 minutes past on the clock, Zakaria Labyad quickly reacted to a loose defensive effort from RKC Waalwijk as he capitalized on a loose ball to slot the ball home. His goal celebration was, however, short-lived as the video assistant referee ruled out the goal for offside. 

Without relenting, Zakaria, after so many failed attempts at goal, eventually found the back of the net again in the 34th minute of the first half to put his team 2-0 up. It only took him three attempts of shots on target to double his side’s lead, and in a bid to preserve their lead, Ajax substituted the Moroccan forward in the 70th minute for defensive options.

MEHDI BOURABIA

Another Moroccan player who put up an outstanding performance this past week was the Italian side and Sassuolo midfielder Mehdi Bourabia. Since Sassuolo gained promotion in 2013 to the Serie A, the top tier league in Italy, they have since then put up wavering performances that ensured they remained in the league. They played their first league match of the new season at home against Cagliari, who held them to a goalless draw for a greater portion of the game. Cagliari’s Giovanni Simeone pulled up a shocker as he put his team in front in the 77th minute of the match, leaving Sassuolo to wallow in their mediocre performance. 

In the 63rd minute of gameplay, Sassuolo coach Roberto De Zerbi introduced Bourabia into the match as a substitute. With just 3 minutes left to play in normal time, the Moroccan midfielder gave Sassuolo a priceless lifeline as he singlehandedly shot the ball home beyond the reach of the goalkeeper to level for his team at 1-1. The game finished in a stalemate, and Mehdi Bourabia was just in time to secure the much-needed point for his team.

WILFRED ZAHA

The Ivorian striker was on the headlines for his club side, Crystal Palace last weekend. His team secured a famous 3-1 win against his former club Manchester United in the latter’s league opener. Crystal Palace midfielder Andros Townsend was the one who opened the scoresheet for his team just after 7 minutes into the first half. Things went from bad to worse for Manchester United. A video assistant referee review faulted Lindelof for a handball in his box, and Crystal palace was awarded a penalty kick. 

Jordan Ayew stepped up to take the kick but lost it disappointingly. The referee then asked for a retake as Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea was spotted leaving his line before the penalty kick was taken. It was then that Wilfred Zaha rose to the occasion to convert the penalty kick. 

Although Manchester United pulled a goal back in the 80th minute of play, on-form striker Zaha however put the game beyond a reasonable doubt to seal the victory for his side with a second for him and a third for Crystal palace. His performance in the match earned him the Man of the Match Award afterward.

OUSSAMA TANNANE

Oussama is a Moroccan professional football player who plays as a winger for Dutch club Vitesse. Oussama is a versatile footballer who sometimes can be deployed in a broad midfield role. He has become so conversant with the league outfit as he made his first appearance in the Dutch league as far back as 2012 for SC Heerenveen, who is one of the league’s strong forces before joining Vitesse in 2019. 

In his team’s home league match against Sparta Rotterdam last weekend, Oussama opened the scoresheet for his team after 27 minutes of play in the first half. That lead gave his team enough confidence and momentum as they held onto the lead before adding another in the 82nd minute. Oussama, who was everywhere and all over their opponent, registered quite a good number of accurate passes and long balls. He also converted one for himself that led to his early minute opener for his side.

MOUSSA KALILOU DJITTE

Kalilou is a Senegalese professional footballer who plays as a forward for French second-tier club Grenoble. Despite putting up impressive performance since joining in 2019, he has not been a regular starter at the French capital.

In a home match against AC Ajaccio this past weekend, Moussa came on as an early substitute for injured first-choice Grenoble striker Marcellin Anani who picked up an injury just in the 27th minute of play in the first half. Moussa didn’t waste time in repaying the faith of his head coach as he sealed a comfortable win for his side after they had held on to a narrow one-goal lead since the 18th minute of the first half.

IBRAHIMA NIANE

Niane is a Senegalese professional footballer who plays as a forward for Ligue 1 club FC Metz. The 20-year-old striker signed for Metz in 2017 and was part of the team who won the French Ligue 2 title with Metz in the 2018/2019 season. In his team’s fourth fixture in the French Ligue 1 last weekend against Reims, Ibrahima was on target as he took the spotlight to hand his team a deserved 2-1 victory solely. 

His team took an early lead into the first half of the game as fellow teammate Farid Boulaya handed Ibrahima a sublime pass. He only needed one touch to place the Reims goalkeeper at an unreachable angle. Few minutes into halftime, Reims leveled things up after assist hero Farid Boulaya made a clumsy challenge in his own box to award Reims a penalty kick. 

Ibrahima Niane then resuscitated his team after a prolonged gridlock as he produced a subtle finish to hand his team a 2-1 lead in the 88th minute of play. His team sealed the victory with his late winner, with the success being the first league win for Metz this season from all four outings.

STEPHANE BAHOKEN

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Bahoken is a Cameroonian professional footballer who plays as a striker for French Ligue 1 club Angers. The 28-year-old forward has spent most of his senior career playing in the French league by featuring first for Nice in 2011, Strasbourg in 2014 before signing for Angers in the 2018 transfer window. In their Ligue 1 match against Montpellier last weekend, Bahoken’s team fell to a heavy defeat in a 4-1 riot. 

With 25 minutes past on the clock in the first half in what looked to be a one-sided affair for Montpellier, Stephane Bahoken squeezed out a deserved equalizer to put his team leveled again after they slumped to an early lead in the 18th minute to their opponent. It all soon turned out to be a lost cause as Montpellier was up in the lead again after a defensive error in Angers box.

Bahoken looked to be the only player from his side who was desperate for a win as he pulled up several efforts to level his team up again. Still, frustration soon got the best of him as he was handed a yellow card for a clumsy challenge while he was trying to win back a lost ball in the opponent’s half. He was then substituted in the 74th minute, and thanks to him, his lone goal was the only thing his side took away from the heavy defeat.

MOSES SIMON

Simon is a Nigerian professional footballer who plays as a winger for French league one side FC Nantes. The French club secured a permanent transfer move for the Nigerian after previously signing him on loan from Spanish club Levante in the 2019/2020 season. 

The 25-year hold became so much sought-after owing to his incredible display in the 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign for the Nigerian national team. Nantes welcomed Saint Etienne in last weekend’s Ligue 1 match in a competitive encounter, and it was Moses Simon’s team who fell to an early 2-0 lead from both halves of the game. 

Moses Simon, who is known for his incredible technique on the ball, then maneuvered his way past the oppositions relaxed defense, delivered a sublime pass before the favor was returned by Dennis Appiah only for Simon to slot the ball to the bottom corner of the net. The goal triggered a fighting spirit for the Nantes side and soon inspired enough to find an equalizer late into the game with just 5 minutes left on the clock. The match finished in a 2-2 stalemate with Moses Simon inspiring his side to an incredible comeback.

YOUNES BELHANDA

Belhanda is a Moroccan professional football player who plays as an attacking midfielder for Turkish club Galatasaray S.K. When he signed for Galatasaray in 2017, Belhanda was handed the number 10 shirt, which was previously worn by former Galatasaray player Wesley Sneijder.

The 30-year-old has since then netted 13 times in 79 appearances for the club. In last weekend’s Turkish league fixture, Galatasaray visited current league champions Instabiul Basaksehir at home in a fierce encounter. It was the away team that hit the back of the net first through a penalty kick awarded to Radamel Falcao just 14 minutes into the first half.

Both teams kept a high momentum throughout the rest of the match until in the 76th minute when Younes Belhanda sealed the victory with a fierce shot from outside the box assisted with a cross from former Liverpool man and 33-year-old winger Ryan Babel. Galatasaray held on to the lead until full-time as Belhanda’s goal ensured they didn’t fall to a surprise equalizer from their opponent.

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