AFCON 2023 squad announcements: Surprise inclusions to watch

All of the AFCON 2023 squad announcements have now been made and with the tournament set to begin next week, excitement is building ahead of a tournament that has been two years in the making.

While certain star players, including Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Riyad Mahrez are all set to be in the Ivory Coast, there are also some surprise inclusions who will be looking to make a name for themselves over the next month.

At AFCON 2021 there were plenty of players who shone as surprises, including Burkina Faso's Issa Kabore and Egypt's Gabasksi. Who are the players to look out for this year? Let's take a look.

AFCON 2023 squad announcements surprises
Nicolas Pepe has been handed a second chance at international level – Photo by Icon Sport

AFCON 2023 squad announcements – surprise inclusions

Boulaye Dia – Senegal

Boulaye Dia is a surprise call-up to the Senegal squad for AFCON 2023. The 27-year-old was injured just last week playing for his club side, Salernitana, in Serie A in a match against AC Milan. Dia was taken off with a thigh injury that many assumed would rule him out of AFCON 2023 but Senegal boss, Aliou Cissé, has elected to select him regardless.

It isn't expected that Dia will participate in the group stages of the tournament but he could feature in the knockout stages should Senegal get out of their group as expected. Dia has 25 caps to his name and has scored six goals for his country.

Yasser Larouci – Algeria

Yasser Larouci was a highly-rated prospect at Liverpool a few years ago but things haven't quite gone as planned in his young career so far. He is currently on loan at Sheffield United from Troyes but has struggled to establish himself in the Blades' starting eleven.

Larouci has only made one appearance for Algeria in the past which makes his inclusion in their squad a bit of a surprise given his lack of game time in the Premier League. Can this be a breakthrough tournament for the 23-year-old?

Andre Onana – Cameroon

When Manchester United signed Cameroon goalkeeper, Andre Onana, in the summer it was under the assumption that he wouldn't be going to AFCON 2023. Onana had fallen out with the coach Rigobert Song during the 2022 World Cup and was subsequently banished from the squad.

However, it has recently transpired that the ex-Inter Milan man has patched things up with Song and the Cameroon Football Federation and has been selected in the Cameroon AFCON 2023 squad. As a late surprise inclusion, Onana will stay with Man Utd for longer than expected to ensure minimal disruption at Old Trafford. It could mean that he will play two games in 24 hours across two continents later this month.

Andre Onana
Andre Onana is a surprise inclusion for Cameroon – Photo by Icon sport

Nathan Wilfried Douala – Cameroon

All eyes were on Cameroon when they announced their squad to find out whether they would include 17-year-old Nathan Wilfried Douala. There has been plenty of controversy surrounding Douala and whether he truly is 17 with many people pointing to how his facial features don't match those of a typical teenager.

Douala plays for Victoria United in Cameroonian football and is yet to be capped at international level. He is a highly-rated talent in Africa and is somewhat of a playmaker in midfield. Douala is certainly one to watch this winter, for more than one reason.

Nicolas Pepe – Ivory Coast

It was only a few years ago that Nicolas Pepe was the new poster boy for the Ivory Coast but after his £72m move to Arsenal from Lille went terribly, his stock declined sharply. Pepe is currently trying to restart his career in Turkey with Besiktas and he is having a decent enough season in the Turkish Superliga without doing anything extraordinary.

His inclusion in the Ivory Coast squad for AFCON 2023 is a shock as he hasn't played for his country for more than a year and he hasn't done anything to necessarily merit a place. Pepe may benefit from the fact Simon Adingra goes into the tournament nursing a hamstring injury which could keep him out of the opening match of the tournament.

Avatar of Andy Delaney
Andy Delaney

Andy is a freelance Sports Journalist with ten years of experience covering football in the United Kingdom and abroad for various publications including the Manchester Evening News, UtdReport and Football Whispers. Andy also has a keen interest in basketball, cricket, golf and tennis and has covered major sporting events such as the Masters in Augusta.