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Players who boosted their careers at the AFCON U-20

Last week we took a look at what the African Nations Championship has done in boosting the profile of domestic-based African players. Now it is time to look at how one of youth football’s most scouted tournaments, the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations, and how it has catapulted talents into the spotlight with transfers abroad. Pan-Africa Football looks at those who have earned distinction in the tournament along with their highlights and current career status.

Enock Mwepu- Zambia (AFCON U-20 2017)

2017 was Zambia’s year at the AFCON U-20 with several players from the squad earning big time moves due to their performances for the champions that year. While current Red Bull Salzburg teammate and fellow U-20 star Patson Daka had already secured a move to Austria before the tournament, Enock Mwepu was still at Kafue Celtic at the beginning of the tournament before joining Daka. The powerful central midfielder showed he was the complete package, displaying excellence going both ways. Mwepu is currently still starring at Red Bull Salzburg and appears destined for a move to a bigger club.

Krépin Diatta – Senegal (AFCON U-20 2017)

The electic forward sliced open defenses with his dribbling and creative ability in attack in a talent-heavy 2017 tournament. Having already flashed his potential at Sarpsborg in Norway, Diatta earned a move to top Belgian side Club Brugge in January after scoring two goals in Senegal’s run to the final and contributing to their FIFA U-20 World Cup run to the knockout round. Scoring 20 goals in 95 appearances for Brugge, Diatta locked down a club upgrade to Ligue 1 with AS Monaco for the 2020-21 season.

Taiwo Awoniyi – Nigeria (2015 African U-20 Championship)

A unique example, the Ilorin-born forward Taiwo Awoniyi moved to London as a youth before being discovered by former Nigeria and English Premier League midfielder Seyi Olofinjana at a competition in the city. Boosting his reputation as a player to watch through performances in youth competition, the 2015 edition (called the African U-20 Championship) saw Awoniyi show flashes of his ability to threaten with size and speed with three goals. Moving to Liverpool soon after the tournament, Awoniyi is still at the EPL side and is on his seventh loan away at Bundesliga club Union Berlin.

Luther Singh – South Africa (AFCON U-20 2017)

Taking a different path from many South African youngsters, Luther Singh bypassed the country’s league system by spending his time at Stars of Africa Academy with training stints in Brazil. The winger/forward arguably performed the best among the many emerging talents in 2017 with four goals and two assists to secure the Golden Boot. Following the tournament Singh moved on to Swedish football with GAIS in the second-tier before earning a move to UEFA competition regulars Sporting Braga in Portugal. Although failing to gain playing time at Braga, Singh has scored 9 goals in 60 Primeira Liga appearances over three seasons spent on loan at different clubs.

Olivier Mbaizo – Cameroon (AFCON U-20 2017)

The right-back graduated through all of Cameroon’s youth national teams before locking down the starting spot for the U-20’s in the 2017 tournament. Showing the ability to contribute going forward or defending, Mbaizo capped off his fine tournament with a wonderful goal against Sudan. Starting the tournament at club Rainbow FC in Bamenda, Mbaizo followed the path of many former Rainbow players by going abroad to the United States the following January. Starting off at Philadephia Union feeder club Bethlehem Steel, Mbaizo has graduated to the Union and seen his role steadily increase with 14 appearances in the 2020 Covid-19 shortened Major League Soccer season.

Youssouf Koïta – Mali (AFCON U-20 2019)

Mali conquered the 2019 AFCON U-20 by showing the organization and willpower to take chances and restrict some of their flashier opponents. A key part of their success was goalkeeper Youssouf Koïta, who was named Best Goalkeeper in the tournament. Despite being small in size Koïta’s reflexes were excellent in helping Mali win two penalty kick shootouts, including in the final against a talented Senegal team. Koïta joined Spanish club Girona in January before the 2019 tournament but recently returned to Malian football with Djoliba AC.

Youssouph Badji – Senegal (AFCON U-20 2019)

At 17-years-old, Casa Sports striker Youssouph Badji had scouts following closely thanks to his ability to not only outrun defenders but bully them as well. Tying teammate Amadou Dia N’Diaye for the lead in goals, Badji’s standout performance against Ghana was what really put him on the map courtesy of two goals in the 2-0 victory. Badji was on the plane to Belgium to join countryman and fellow AFCON U-20 alumnus Krépin Diatta at Club Brugge soon after turning 18 in January following the tournament. Featuring mainly as a substitute in his first full season, Badji has scored 7 goals in 28 appearances in all competitions for Brugge.

Mohamed Ali Camara – Guinea (AFCON U-20 2017)

Towering center-back Mohamed Ali Camara was a critical component of Guinea’s run to the semi-finals in 2017 before bowing out to Senegal. Camara’s long legs poking the ball away from frustrated attackers was a familiar sight and made the captain difficult to get around. Starting his professional career with Horoya AC, Camara was on loan from the Conakry giants at fellow Guinean club Hafia before Hapoel Raanana of Israel snatched him up following the tournament. Featuring regularly in his lone season in Israel, top Swiss club Young Boys purchased Camara for €1.5 million, where after some initial struggles he is featuring regularly at 23 for a team that is currently dominating the Swiss Super League.

Edward Chilufya- Zambia (AFCON U-20 2017)

There were so many options from the Zambia team to pick from with top talents Patson Daka and Fashion Sakala already having earned moves to Europe before the tournament. However, Edward “Tiger” Chilufya deserves special mention as well. Joining Daka and Luther Singh at the top of the scoring charts with four, the versatile attacker popped up at critical moments to score for Zambia in the semi-final and final. The 17-year-old moved to Djurgårdens in Sweden’s Allsvenskan after the tournament and trained with the youth team before turning professional in February the following year. Chilufya had a bit part his first two seasons but has seen his role increase this past season, making 16 appearances and emerging as a hero in Djurgårdens ongoing Svenska Cupen with six goals in four games.

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