The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) remains one of the few major tournaments in world football where gems can still be unearthed.
In the tournament’s history, some of the continent’s best Muslim talents used AFCON as a platform for huge success in their careers.
As AFCON 2021 kicks off today in Cameroon, we seize the occasion to remember some of these players whose contributions to the continental competition remain unforgettable.
Rashidi Yekini (1963-2012) — A Nigerian professional footballer was known as one of the continent’s top strikers. Despite his death in 2012, Yekini still remains an all-time top goalscorer for his nation.
His professional career, spanning more than two decades, was mainly associated with Vitória de Setúbal in Portugal, but he also played in six other countries besides his own.
Yekini scored 37 goals as a Nigerian international footballer, and represented the nation in seven major tournaments, including two World Cups where he scored the country’s first-ever goal in the competition. He was also named the African Footballer of the Year in 1993.
Ezzaki Badou, 1959, nicknamed Zaki, is a Moroccan retired footballer who played as a goalkeeper, and manager. He is considered to be one of the best goalkeepers in Africa. Zaki represented AS Salé, Wydad AC, RCD Mallorca and Fath Union Sport during a 17-year professional career.
Zaki played for the Moroccan national team in the 1986 FIFA World Cup and four Africa Cup of Nations. In the tournament held in Mexico, he helped his country to the round-of-16; additionally, the recipient of 76 full caps competed in the 1984 Summer Olympics. In 2006, Zaki was selected by the Confederation of African Football as one of the best 200 African footballers of the last 50 years.
Mahmoud El Khatib
Mahmoud El Khatib, born 1954 and popularly nicknamed Bibo, is an Egyptian retired footballer and current President of Al Ahly club. He is widely regarded as one of the best players in African football history.
El Khatib played his entire career at Al Ahly, where he won ten Egyptian Premier League, five Egypt Cup, two African Cup of Champions and three African Cup Winners’ Cup. In addition, he won the 1986 Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt.
In 2014, he became the vice-president of Al Ahly, before being elected as president in 2017.
Rabah Mustapha Madjer, born 1958, is an Algerian former footballer who played as a striker.
He reached stardom as a Porto player during the 1980s, being widely regarded as one of the best Algerian football players of all time. With that club, he won nine major titles during his six-year spell, including three national championships and the 1987 European Cup.
One of the most prolific Algerian internationals in number of games and goals, Madjer played in two World Cups with his national team, helping it to its first ever participation in 1982. Having taken up coaching immediately after retiring, he managed several clubs, and also had several spells with the Algerian team.
Abdoulaye Traoré, born 1967, nicknamed Ben Badi, is an Ivorian former professional footballer who played as a forward. He scored 49 goals in 88 appearances for the Ivory Coast.
He made six Primeira Liga appearances for S.C. Braga. In 2015, he became an ambassador of The SATUC Cup, a new charitable global football competition for U16 orphans, refugees and disadvantaged children.
Seydou Keïta, born 1980, is a Malian former footballer. A versatile midfielder who operated as both a central or defensive midfielder. He most notably played for Lens (five seasons) and Barcelona (four), winning 14 titles with the latter club after signing in 2008. He started his youth career in Mali and his professional career with Marseille. His career would take him to clubs in France, Spain, China, Italy and Qatar. Keita represented Mali since the age of 18, appearing in seven Africa Cup of Nations tournaments and winning 102 caps.
Mustapha Hadji, 1971, is a retired Moroccan footballer and the current assistant manager of the Morocco national team. He was named the 50th greatest African player of all time by the African football expert Ed Dove.
At the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Hadji played in all three group games for Morocco, two as substitute. Hadji scored a great goal in Morocco’s 2–2 draw with Norway in the 1998 FIFA World Cup but Morocco again failed to qualify for the knock-out stages. He was named African Footballer of the Year after the World Cup in France.
Lakhdar Belloumi, 1958, is an Algerian former football player and manager. He is widely considered as the best Algerian player of all time and one of the best players in Africa. He is said to have invented the “Blind Pass”.
He is awarded the 4th best African player of the century. He holds the record as the most capped Algerian player with 100 national caps (147 caps not recognized by FIFA) and is also the third best goalscorer of the Algerian national team in all time with 28 goals (34 goals not recognized by FIFA).
Mudashiru Babatunde, simply known as “Muda” Lawal (1954-1991) was a Nigerian footballer who played as a midfielder for both club and country. Muda made his international debut in 1975, and won 86 caps and scored 12 goals for his country; he holds the record of being the only player on the continent to have appeared at five consecutive Nations’ Cup finals (1976–1984). Lawal guided Nigeria to its first African Nations Cup title, at the 1980 African Nations Cup. The team also competed at the Summer Olympics the same year.
Lawal played his last international match on 18 August 1985, when Nigeria lost to Zambia in the 1986 African Cup of Nations qualifier.
Frédéric Oumar Kanouté is a former professional footballer who played as a striker for several top-tier clubs in Europe, enjoying his greatest success with La Liga side Sevilla. Kanouté was named the 2007 African Footballer of the Year, the first player born outside Africa to win the award.
Despite appearing 6 times for France U-21, Kanouté was a member of the Malian squad which reached the semi-finals of the 2004 African Cup of Nations and also featured in their selections for the tournament in 2006 and 2010. His international career ended in 2010 with a total of 39 caps and 23 goals.
Taher Abou Zeid is the Egyptian Minister of State for Sports and a retired footballer. He played as a midfielder for Al Ahly and the Egyptian national team.
In the FIFA U20 World Cup 1981, Abouzaid was the top-scorer of the Egyptian team and the scorer of the World Cup. For many years, he played for the Egypt’s national football team. In the 1984 African Cup of Nations, for instance, he was the top scorer with four goals. Also in the 1986 African Cup of Nations, he was the Egyptian team leading scorer helping his team to win the African Cup of Nations 1986. He also played in the 1990 FIFA World Cup finals. Abouzaid also played for Egypt at the 1984 Summer Olympics.
Gnégnéri Yaya Touré, 1983, is an Ivorian professional football coach and former player who played as a midfielder. One of the greatest African players of all time, Touré was voted African Footballer of the Year for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Touré earned 100 caps for the Ivory Coast from 2004 to 2015, representing the nation at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cup tournaments. He also represented them in six Africa Cup of Nations in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2015, helping them finish runner-up in 2006 and 2012, while captaining them to victory in 2015.
Mohamed AbouTrika, 1978, is an Egyptian retired professional footballer who played as an attacking midfielder and a forward. He is often considered one of the best Egyptian players in history. He came second in the African Footballer of the Year award in 2008 after Emmanuel Adebayor, and was one of five nominees for the 2006 award, and one of the ten nominated for the 2013 award.
The nicknamed ‘Prince of Hearts’ won the African Cup of Nations in 2006 with the Egyptian national team. He also scored the winning goal to help Egypt win the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. He helped his club Al Ahly win the bronze medal in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2006.
Suleyman Ali “Sulley” Muntari, born 1984, is a Ghanaian former professional footballer who played as a central midfielder.
During his time with Internazionale, he helped the team win the Champions League in 2009–10 and the Serie A title in 2008–09 and 2009–10. He was also part of the Portsmouth team that won the FA Cup in 2007–08. After becoming a full international in 2002, Muntari earned over 80 caps for the Ghanaian national team and was selected for two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments and three FIFA World Cups.
Mubarak Wakaso, born 1990, is a Ghanaian footballer who plays for Chinese club Shenzhen F.C. and the Ghana national team as a midfielder.
He spent the better part of his career in Spain, starting out at Elche in 2008 and going on to also represent Villarreal, Espanyol, Las Palmas, Granada and Alavés. He also competed professionally in Russia, Scotland, Greece and China. Wakaso appeared with the Ghana national team at the 2014 World Cup, as well as four Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.
El Hadji Diouf
El Hadji Ousseynou Diouf, born 1981, is a Senegalese former professional footballer. Throughout his career, Diouf played as a winger or a forward. Having started his professional football career in France with Sochaux, Rennes and Lens, Diouf finalised a move to Premier League side Liverpool prior to the 2002 FIFA World Cup for Senegal and went on to have a memorable tournament.
In 2011, he joined Football League Championship side Doncaster Rovers but was released at the end of the 2011–12 season following the club’s relegation. He then moved to Leeds United where he spent two seasons. During his nine-year international career, he scored 21 goals in 69 caps. In 2004, he was named in the FIFA 100, a list of the 125 greatest living footballers selected by Pelé in conjunction with FIFA’s centenary celebrations.
Essam El Hadary
Essam El Hadary, born 1973, is an Egyptian goalkeeping coach and former professional footballer.
Nicknamed the “High Dam”, El Hadary spent the largest portion of his club career with Al Ahly, with whom he won eight Egyptian Premier League titles, four Egypt Cups, four Egyptian Super Cups, four CAF Champions League titles, three CAF Super Cups, one Arab Club Champions Cup, and two Arab Super Cups.
Third on the list of all-time appearances for Egypt, El Hadary made 159 international appearances for his nation between 1996 and 2018. He won the Africa Cup of Nations four times, and was named the tournament’s best goalkeeper on three occasions. In the 2018 World Cup, at the age of 45 years and 161 days, he became the oldest player in history to play in a World Cup match.
Kolo Abib Touré, born 1981, is an Ivorian professional football coach and former player. He played as a defender for Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Celtic and the Ivory Coast national team. He is currently a first team coach at Leicester City as well as a member of the coaching staff for the Ivory Coast national team.
Touré is the second-most capped player for the Ivory Coast, with 120 appearances from 2000 to 2015. He represented the team at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cup tournaments. Touré also represented the Ivory Coast at seven Africa Cup of Nations tournaments between 2002 and 2015, helping them finish runner-up in 2006 and 2012, while winning in 2015.