The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) gets underway in the Ivory Coast this month, with many young players looking to burst onto the scene and drive their nation to glory. To mark the occasion, we have made a top-10 list of who we believe will be the best young players at AFCON 2023, with the sole criteria for inclusion being that they were aged 22 or under at the start of the 2023/24 season.
Best young players at AFCON 2023 – Our top 10
10. Karim Konate – Ivory Coast
Kicking off the list is Konate, who boasts 11 senior caps for AFCON's host country, scoring two goals. The striker could lead the line at just 19 years old, making him the youngest player in our rankings. Konate plays his club football for RB Salzburg – who have helped nurture talents like Erling Haaland in the past – and already has 10 goals and six assists for them in all competitions this season.
9. Ismael Saibari – Morocco
Saibari has only earned four senior caps for Morocco, with his debut coming in September. The midfielder plays his club football for PSV, where he is not always a starter, but has chipped in with goals and assists that have helped them remarkably win every game in the Eredivisie this season, and qualify for the UEFA Champions League knockouts.
8. Dango Outtara – Burkina Faso
Outarra is expected to be one of Burkina Faso's main attacking threats at AFCON, having scored seven goals and made two assists in 18 senior caps. He plays his club football for Bournemouth, who are on excellent form in the Premier League, and despite being a winger by trade, he has started each of the last three league games as a left-back, proving himself to be a versatile asset.
7. Rayan Ait-Nouri – Algeria
Ait-Nouri only has four senior caps for Algeria, but switched allegiances having earned 14 caps for France at youth level. He plays in the Premier League with Wolves, primarily as a left-back or wing-back, and has recently helped the team win three consecutive league matches for the first time this season.
6. Nicolas Jackson – Senegal
Jackson may be enduring a tough time at Chelsea, but he will still be one of Senegal's main attacking threats – and they will need to rely on him finding some form if they are to win back-to-back AFCONs. He is yet to score in six senior appearances for his country, but has managed eight goals at club level this term.
5. Simon Adingra – Ivory Coast
Adingra is set to play in his first major international tournament, and could not asked for much better than to represent the host country at AFCON. The midfielder has scored once in five senior caps, and provided eight goal contributions in 23 appearances for Brighton this campaign. We expect Adingra to have an impressive breakthrough tournament, and he is one of three players in this list we have predicted to be named in the team of the tournament.
4. Ousmane Diomande – Ivory Coast
Another Ivorian makes the list in Diomande, and another player we predict will have a big AFCON and be named in the team of the tournament. At just 20 years old, he is the second-youngest player on this list, but has already earned three senior caps for his country. At club level, Diomande is a regular starter for one of the best Portuguese teams in Sporting CP, and has been courted by some top clubs ahead of a potential transfer.
3. Pape Matar Sarr – Senegal
Sarr is only 21 years old, but already has 18 senior caps for Senegal. The midfielder has been given a new lease of life at Tottenham under new manager Ange Postecoglou, scoring twice and making two assists in 18 Premier League appearances, helping Spurs push for Champions League qualification.
2. Odilon Kossounou – Ivory Coast
Kossounou turned 23 on Thursday, and could partner Diomande in the heart of Ivory Coast's defence, having earned 18 senior caps. At club level, he has been a regular for high-flying Bayer Leverkusen, helping them remain unbeaten in the Bundesliga.
1. Mohammed Kudus – Ghana
Kudus is set to be Ghana's main danger man overall, having scored nine goals and made three assists in 30 previous senior appearances. The attacker made the move to West Ham United in the Premier League this season, and boasts 13 goals and two assists in 27 games so far – his imperative form makes him one of our favourites to make the team of the tournament.