Five African talents to watch in 2024

Published on: 16 February 2024

The CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2023 has just come to an end, with Côte d’Ivoire joyously securing the trophy in their capital city of Abidjan.

Several promising young players stood out at the tournament, which delivered thrilling drama and several matches which will live long in the memory.

The next key dates on the calendar will be June’s qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup 26™ and the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in July and August in Paris, prompting us to take a closer look at five players who could take centre stage in 2024.

Oumar Diakite (Côte d’Ivoire)

Age: 20 (DOB: 20 December 2003) How did Côte d’Ivoire perform at AFCON 2023? Winners Diakite's AFCON appearances/goals: Two starts, three substitute appearances | One goal

Oumar Diakite has already been in the spotlight in 2024, with his backheeled last-gasp winner in Côte d’Ivoire’s AFCON quarter-final win over Mali one of the tournament’s most incredible moments. "That goal saw me bring joy and happiness to 30 million people in my country," said the Reims attacker after the match.

Diakite’s celebration after that strike earned him a second booking and he was forced to miss the semi-final, but he came on for the last 20 minutes of Côte d’Ivoire’s victory in the final. Will he be able to carry his form over into the World Cup 26 qualifiers in June? Last November, he was part of the side which got off to a flying start with a 9-0 win over Seychelles. Diakite was substituted on late in that match for another rising star – 22-year-old Simon Adingra, one of the standout players in the AFCON final – before starting in the 2-0 win over Gambia.

Bilal El Khannouss (Morocco)

Age: 19 (DOB: 10 May 2004) How did Morocco perform at AFCON 2023? Round of 16 El Khannouss’ AFCON 2023 appearances: Three substitute appearances

"My life changed after the World Cup," said Genk attacking midfielder Bilal El Khannouss, who was part of Morocco’s incredible Qatar 2022™ campaign. At just 18 years of age, he was the youngest member of the Atlas Lions squad and made his full debut in the play-off for third place (a 2-1 defeat to Croatia).

Now 19, the Belgium-born midfielder was given a start by coach Walid Regragui in Morocco’s first World Cup 26 qualifier – a 2-0 win over Tanzania – and he was a member of the Africa Cup of Nations squad in January 2024.

In between, El Khannouss was part of the team which won the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations, booking a spot at the Paris Olympic Games in the process. In 2024, he will be hoping to don the red and green for their World Cup qualifiers in June before representing his country on the Olympic stage.

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Nene Dorgeles (Mali)

Age: 21 (DOB: 23 December 2002) How did Mali perform at AFCON 2023? Quarter-finalists Dorgeles’ AFCON 2023 appearances/goals: One start, three substitute appearances | One goal

As well as continuing to be part of Mali's full international squad for their World Cup qualifiers, Nene Dorgeles may also have his sights set on the Olympics. The young Eagles qualified for Paris 2024 by beating Guinea in the third-place match at last year’s U-23 AFCON. While the RB Salzburg forward did not play in that tournament, he is still eligible for a call-up for Paris 2024 from coach Alou Badra Diallo.

Last November, he came on around the hour mark in two World Cup qualifiers – a 3-1 win over Chad and a 1-1 draw with Central African Republic.

At the AFCON, Dorgeles really made his mark, scoring a highlight-reel goal against Côte d’Ivoire (coincidentally the country of his birth) in the quarter-finals, dropping his shoulder then cutting inside to escape his marker before firing home. It was not enough to see Mali through to the semis, but it did ensure fans will be looking out for the 21-year-old as the year progresses.

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Lamine Camara (Senegal)

Age: 20 (DOB: 1 January 2004) How did Senegal perform at AFCON 2023? Round of 16 Camara’s AFCON 2023 appearances/goals: Three starts | Two goals

Having bagged a brace in the 3-0 win over Gambia on the opening day of AFCON 2023, Camara went on to be voted best young player of the group stage.

He appears primed to be a key player when Senegal continue their World Cup 26 qualification campaign in June. At the end of last year, the midfielder – who plays his club football with Metz and counts Idrissa Gana Gueye, Federico Valverde and Kevin de Bruyne as his idols – played in Senegal’s two World Cup 26 qualifiers. He was a starter against South Sudan and scored his team's third goal in a 4-0 win. Three days later, he came on as a substitute in the 0-0 draw with Togo.

Indeed, 2023 was a breakthrough year for the attacking midfielder, who was named the best player at the U-20 AFCON, African Young Player of the Year, and won the African Nations Championship 2022 (played in 2023).

Senegal will face Congo DR and Mauritania in World Cup qualifiers in June, and will no doubt be hoping that Camara sustains his impressive momentum.

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Thapelo Maseko (South Africa)

Age: 20 (DOB: 11 November 2004) How did South Africa perform at AFCON 2023? Semi-finalists Maseko’s AFCON 2023 appearances/goals: One start, four substitute appearances | One goal

The South African winger scored just five minutes after coming on as a substitute against Namibia in a 4-0 win at the AFCON but saw his tournament cut short by injury in their quarter-final win against Cabo Verde.

He may stand at only 5ft 3in tall, but the youngster certainly rose above the competition in 2023, winning the inaugural African Football League with the Mamelodi Sundowns and being voted player of the tournament. While Maseko did not feature in World Cup 26 qualifying last November, coach Hugo Broos will likely call on him in June for the next round of games. South Africa, currently second in Group C, will face Nigeria – who defeated them in the AFCON semi-finals – and Zimbabwe.

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