The 2016-17 UEFA Champions League group stage begins tonight with 32 teams from all over Europe embarking on a journey which will end with a final at the Welsh national stadium in Cardiff.
As always, there are a number of world-class African players in the competition who are set to light up screens on Tuesday and Wednesday nights over the coming weeks and months. Whether in attack, at the back or in midfield, Africa’s finest will be on display for clubs throughout the European continent, all fighting to lift the most sought-after club title, the UEFA Champions League.
Here are six Africans to look out for in Europe’s flagship competition this season.
One of the most promising African players plying their trade in Europe at the moment is Nigeria’s 19-year-old striker Iheanacho. He has been a revelation at Manchester City since his debut season last year, in which he scored 14 goals.
His composure in front of goal belies his age and new coach Pep Guardiola has included him in his Champions League squad alongside fellow attackers Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Nolito due to his ability and promise.
A proven striker for both Gabon and German club Borussia Dortmund, the current African Player of the Year will spearhead his team’s quest to progress from the group stages before aiming to go all the way in the competition.
The 27-year-old managed 36 goals in all competitions last season, setting himself up as a massive transfer target, but despite interest from many clubs all over the continent, the speedy striker decided to keep his skills at Dortmund.
The 25-year-old Senegalese defender was one of the best defenders in Serie A last season with the Partenopei, helping them to earn second place in the Italian top-flight and an automatic spot in the Champions League. With the draw placing the Naples outfit in Group B alongside Benfica, Dynamo Kyiv and Besiktas, the physically imposing defender will be critical in stopping the best attackers in Europe’s premier competition.
He has proven himself capable of going toe to toe with top class strikers, and the Champions League will give him more experience against the best.
While many believe that the Champions League will be a step too far in the Leicester City fairy-tale, the club has done well to hold on to Algerian star attacking midfielder Mahrez in the face of great interest in his signature from many rivals in Europe.
The skillful and confident 25-year-old registered 17 goals and 11 assists last term, allowing the Foxes to achieve their first ever Premier League title and a debut among Europe’s elite.
Mahrez may be looking at Group G with quiet confidence, as a favourable draw sees Claudio Ranieri’s side paired with Club Brugge, FC Copenhagen and Porto. A few solid performances from Mahrez & co may be enough to see the incredible journey continue into the knockout stages of the competition.
Ghana international Asamoah has finally recovered from injuries that kept him from contributing fully to Juventus’ assault on Serie A, the Champions League and the Coppa Italia last season. His recovery provides Juve with an experienced and hard-working midfielder to count on this term.
A player of his calibre will be a useful asset when the Italian champions face the likes of Dinamo Zagreb, Lyon and Sevilla in Group H in the coming weeks and months. The 27-year-old joined Juventus in 2012, and has won four successive Scudetti
The 26-year-old Algerian playmaker has been a fixture in the Porto midfield, and will be important to the Portuguese club’s run in the Champions League this season. The Algerian international is known for his work ethic, contributing in defence when needed, while his attacking attributes are well documented.
In 16 Champions League appearances, the midfielder has scored seven goals, and he will be hoping to add to that impressive tally this season, with opponents including Leicester City, Club Brugge and FC Copenhagen standing in the way of Porto’s progression in the competition.