Sport

Can Tau roar as Afcon's new poster boy?

2019-06-25 19:42

Every edition of the Afcon has seen the emergence of a new continental football star, and the latest edition under way in Egypt awaits its hero.

The last championships in Gabon had Christian Bassogog, who almost single-handedly helped Cameroon to victory.

Ghana thrived on the exploits of Christian Atsu in 2015.

Jonathan Pitroipa of Burkina Faso lit up the 2013 tournament in South Africa before the Burkinabe lost to Nigeria in the final.

Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the 2012 competition’s winning captain, Christopher Katongo of Zambia, were the stars of the showpiece co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

The question is, who will shine the brightest in this year’s event in Egypt?

South Africa’s Percy Tau has already taken his place as this year’s Afcon poster boy alongside the likes of Mohamed “Mo” Salah of Egypt, Sadio Mané of Senegal and Nigeria’s Alex Iwobi.

At 25, Tau has earned plaudits – even from the opposition camps – since he came through continental football with Mamelodi Sundowns, whom he helped to the 2016 CAF Champions League triumph.

Nigeria head coach Gernot Rohr once remarked: “Tau has all the qualities to be a player in England or somewhere in a big championship.”

This after the nippy striker helped Bafana Bafana to a 1-1 draw against the Super Eagles during the Afcon qualifying campaign last year.

Even Bafana coach Stuart Baxter is aware that Tau would be a marked man in Egypt, but the Brit has marvelled at the way his prized asset has often left his opponents falling down like dominoes.

“Big players win big games,” said Baxter.

“Percy has got to where he is by working hard and taking some knocks. He needs to stretch himself even more rather than we wrap him in cotton wool and say we don’t want the opponents to target him.”

Tau enjoyed a stellar season on his debut campaign abroad with Royale Union Saint Gilloise in the Belgian second division since he joined on loan from English Premier League campaigners Brighton & Hove Albion in January.

Based on his form last season – that earned him player of the year award – Tau surely deserves his place among Africa’s best.

In addition to his club record of 13 goals in 35 matches across all competitions, the Emalahleni, Mpumalanga-born player finished the Afcon qualifiers tied on four strikes with Salah.

In November, Tau was the only South African nominated for the African player of the year award in a list of 34 of the continent’s finest footballers who had the Liverpool duo of Salah and Mané.

It’s a remarkable testament to Tau’s rise, and these kinds of numbers and accolades will surely push Bafana’s newest trump card to emulate Benni McCarthy, who was the hero of the 1998 Afcon.

Meanwhile, reigning African best player and Uefa Champions League winner Salah (27) is also expected to translate his club form to the tournament his country is hosting.

Similarly, his clubmate Mané (27), who also scored 22 league goals for Liverpool, is backed up by a remarkable record heading into Senegal’s opening game against Tanzania tonight.

Unfortunately, the Senegalese will miss the opening game due to suspension, but he will surely be back to take his place in the team in their next game against Algeria on Thursday.

Iwobi (23) also had a fine campaign playing on the wing for Arsenal in England despite the Gunners missing out on a place in next season’s Champions League.

But, as is often the case, a new name might emerge and take the tournament by storm.

The question remains: Who will be the most talked about player after the tournament?

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January 26 2020