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Standout players so far from the 2021-22 CAF Champions League group stage

The 2021-22 CAF Champions League group stage is about halfway completed and has featured several unexpected results, but more significantly is providing an excellent spotlight for players to boost their name. While some of the usual names continue to produce on Africa’s biggest stage when it comes to the continent’s clubs, there are many players who are introducing themselves to African football fans through exceptional performances to become known beyond followers of the domestic leagues they compete in weekly. Below are two players from each of the four groups who have caught our eye:

Wendell Rudath- Jwaneng Galaxy
DOB: 10 July 1996

Jwaneng Galaxy are carrying the flag for the Botswana Premier League in the CAFCL group stage after a remarkable run through the preliminary stages where they took out Tanzanian giants Simba SC, and Namibia national team player Rudath has been instrumental. Rudath effortlessly glides by defenders and has remarkable composure in tight spaces that allows him to initiate quick combination play and calmly finish in the penalty box. The 26-year-old scored two goals in his team’s second leg victory over Simba in Dar es Salaam and appears to be a natural fit for South Africa’s DStv Premiership, but also clearly has the ability to succeed outside the continent. Jwaneng, Botswana is known for having the richest diamond mine in the world, and the video below shows why Rudath shines brightest when Galaxy are on the pitch.

Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane – Espérance ST
DOB: 6 September 1999

Forming an excellent central midfield partnership along with fellow Tunisia national team member Ghailene Chaaleli, Ben Romdhane offers vision and technique when the Blood and Gold move forward. The 22-year-old was only beginning to find a role in the team when EST won the back-to-back CAF Champions League titles in 2018 and 2019, but the 2020-21 edition saw him breakout with five goals in CAFCL play and eleven in all competitions. Ben Romdhane is remarkably efficient with the ball and hardly turns it over, completing 89% of his passes in three group stage games so far. He is a known star in North African football and is destined for a club at a higher level as his role in the Tunisia national team grows.

Achraf Dari – Wydad Casablanca
DOB: 6 May 1999

Dari is a prototypical center back who has the height, strength and physical attributes to go along with an advanced reading of the game. The 22-year-old’s momentum was strong after making his debut for Wydad in 2018 but a cruciate ligament injury sidelined him for a long stretch during the 2019-20 season. However, he has returned to full form for the Reds since coming back for the 2020-21 season and still has an excellent career ahead of him at this point. Dari makes up for a lack of pace with his ability to take intelligent angles and is not afraid to throw his strong frame into aerial challenges, making him a defensive keystone for the defending Botola Pro champions.

Tony Edjomariegwe – Al-Merrikh
DOB: 1 September 1992

The 29-year-old Nigerian veteran attacker made his CAF Champions League debut at 22 in the 2014-15 season with Kano Pillars and since then, the player who is referred to by his first name scored 15 goals over 110 league appearances in Morocco’s Botola Pro with Olympique Safi and Moghreb Tétouan before joining Sudanese powerhouse Al-Merrikh for the 2020-21 season. Tony is fearless when dribbling at defenders and can sneak his way out of any obstacle even if sometimes he has a tendency to dribble into cul-de-sacs. The opposition must always keep an eye on the Warri native, who is at his best when cutting inside from the left wing onto his favored right foot.

Abdelilah Madkour – Raja Casablanca
DOB: 6 October 2000

The 21-year-old brings energy and an attacking mindset at the right back position for Raja, becoming an irreplaceable starter for the Green Eagles during the 2020-21 season with 26 league appearances while making 12 appearances during Raja’s winning run in the CAF Confederation Cup. Madkour’s crossing continues to improve and he has already equaled last season’s total of three assists in only 20 appearances. Along with the ability to get forward, the young full back shows a tenacity in the challenge and relishes playing in important matches.

Rushine de Reuck – Mamelodi Sundowns
DOB: 9 February 1996

Mamelodi Sundowns pulled off the surprise result of the competition so far by going up to Cairo and taking down defending CAFCL champions Al Ahly 1-0 and the South African champions would not have done it without a standout performance from center back Rushine de Reuck. The 26-year-old does not quite have the height and size of many players in his position, but speed and anticipation makes de Reuck excellent when it comes to putting out fires for Masandawana and he also has the toughness to get stuck in and win his fair share of headers. As an 18-year-old he went on trial with FC Porto and nearly signed with Portuguese Primeira Liga side Paços de Ferreira, an experience cited by the South Africa national team member as a positive experience in his development.

Jaredi- Petro de Luanda
DOB: 11 November 1998

Petro de Luanda have not won Angola’s Girabola championship since the 2009 season, but Os Tricolores brought in plenty of talent for the 2021-22 season to make a run for domestic as well as continental prestige and it has paid off big time. 23-year-old Jaredi Teixeira, brought in from fellow Girabola side Interclube, established himself as a key contributor with three assists to help a surprising Petro side to their current position at the top of Group D above known African power clubs Zamalek and Wydad Casablanca. The diminutive winger brings excellent quality to his crosses and rapid acceleration when he embarks on one of his trademark dribbling runs. Petro’s success at the halfway point does not appear to be a fluke and players like Jaredi are looking to help the club make its deepest run in the CAFCL since 2001 when they made it to the semi-finals.

Tapelo Xoki – AmaZulu
DOB: 10 April 1995

The soon to be 27-year-old center back signed his first professional contract with Durban side AmaZulu in 2014 and has remained at the club since, forming an important part of a veteran defense that is rated among the best defenses in South Africa’s DStv Premiership. Xoki does not bring much sophistication to his defending role but offers a no-nonsense approach with speed and physicality. AmaZulu continue to be a difficult team to break down and the man from the Cape Flats has come up with some timely challenges to keep Usuthu’s defensive record at only one goal allowed through three group stage games so far.

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