Sadio Mane, Wahbi Khazri lead Best XI of the African Nations Cup group stage

The hosts are out and the defending champions will be replaced, having lost in the group stage. The 2017 African Nations Cup is providing plenty of entertainment heading into the knockout rounds. Nick Ames picks his best XI of the groups.

GK: Fabrice Ondoa, Cameroon

Were it not for Ochoa's last-gasp heroics against Gabon, Cameroon would have exited at the first hurdle. His remarkable reaction save from Didier Ndong, after Denis Bouanga's shot had hit the post as the host nation pressed for a winner in added time of their final group game, meant the Indomitable Lions stayed in the competition. The Spain-based goalkeeper, still just 21, was an impressive presence throughout their three fixtures.

RB: Harrison Afful, Ghana

Afful was moved to left-back for the final group game against Egypt, but for Ghana's first two games, he was a steady, composed figure on the right as his team edged their way through to a clash with DR Congo. At 30 years old, the Columbus Crew player is one of the experienced heads in Avram Grant's team and will continue to be important as the tournament progresses.

CB: Ahmed Hegazy, Egypt

Egypt's centre-backs were uncompromising throughout the group stage and rarely gave any encouragement to Mali, Uganda or Ghana. Hegazy, the 26-year-old Al Ahly defender, had an ill-fated spell with Fiorentina, but on current form it's possible that European clubs may come sniffing around again. Dominant in the air and composed on the ground, Hegazy and sidekick Ali Gabr have proved to be an impenetrable barrier.

CB: Kara Mbodji, Senegal

Mbodj has been rock-solid for a Senegal side that, physically and technically, have looked a class apart at times. He scored the important second goal against Tunisia with a thumping header and was a commanding presence throughout, even if Algeria's Islam Slimani did find a way past a much-changed Teranga Lions side in the final group game.

LB: Joseph Ochaya, Uganda

Best known as a full-back but deployed to good effect in midfield by the Uganda coach Micho Sredojevic, Ochaya plays for KCC in the local league but has surely earned himself a move up the ladder after some impressive, lively performances up and down the flank. The 23-year-old was a fine outlet for a Uganda side that ran both Ghana and Egypt close, causing problems with his marauding runs.

CM: Thomas Partey, Ghana

Atletico Madrid midfielder Partey was excellent in Ghana's first two group games before being rested for the third. Partey protects his defence astutely but gets around the pitch too, and his presence on and off the ball was vital as both Uganda and Mali came back to give the Black Stars a run for their money in Port-Gentil.

CM: Willard Katsande, Zimbabwe

This may have been the Zimbabwe captain's last action in international football, and if that is the case, it was hardly a bad way to go. In their shock draw with Algeria he marshaled the minnows superbly, appearing all over the pitch and providing a solid base from which his attacking colleagues could break. He also helped steady the ship after a torrid start against Senegal, bringing his experience to bear once more.

RM: Sadio Mane, Senegal

Senegal look a fine bet to win this Cup of Nations on current evidence, and Mane, in such blistering form for Liverpool, has been on song for his country too. A penalty against Tunisia and a close-range finish against Zimbabwe were his two goal-scoring contributions in the group stage, but his all-round play, pulling defences around in the first two games for a team that should have scored more than six group stage goals, was outstanding.

CAM: Wahbi Khazri, Tunisia

Tunisia have long been regarded as a dour, gritty side, but the introduction of Sunderland playmaker Khazri at halftime of their defeat to Senegal would go on to be transformative. With Khazri at the heart of everything, they created enough chances to turn that game around; he then started against Algeria, again shining in a 2-0 win, before scoring in their final 4-2 victory over Zimbabwe.

LM: Denis Bouanga, Gabon

Gabon had little to cheer during their home Cup of Nations but could take heart from the promise of Lorient winger (currently on loan at Ligue 2 side Tours) Bouanga. He provided the cross from which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the opening goal of the tournament and engineered a near-identical delivery against Cameroon from which the striker inexplicably missed; had his shot not rapped the post at the death, he would have been his country's hero.

CF: Junior Kabananga, DR Congo

Astana striker Kabananga has been one of the revelations of the tournament, scoring three times in as many games and guiding DR Congo through as Group C winners. Kabananga has a winning blend of physique, pace and awareness: at 27, is this the time for him to test himself in a major league?