AFCON Under-20 Preview: Will 'Ugandan Messi', 'new Sadio Mane', 'future Osimhen' star in Egypt?

Samba Diallo, of Senegal, has already drawn parallels with compatriot Sadio Mane. Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

The Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, which kicks off on Sunday, represents a priceless opportunity for scouts the world over to glimpse the future superstars of the continental game.

Team success will be a major priority for the young players, but none will want to overlook the opportunity to showcase their talent to international recruiters.

ESPN looks at the title contenders, the pretenders, and introduces some of the bright talents who have already created ripples at youth level.


Senegal won the Under-20 WAFU A tournament in Mauritania, and they arrive in Egypt looking to extend the country's footballing successes of 2022. A year after the senior side won their first Africa Cup of Nations title, the under-20 team's only target in North Africa is victory after being defeated finalists in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

The team is full of talent promoted from an exciting under-17 squad, and many hopes will be pinned on Samba Diallo, currently on the books of Dynamo Kyiv, who scored the winner in the WAFU final and was named Player of the Tournament.

Diallo is technically adroit and a fine dribbler, with immense pace and agility, and his performances have prompted parallels with Sadio Mane, although he's much stocker than the reigning African Footballer of the Year was at the same age.

"We want to follow in the footsteps of our big brothers," Diallo told the Confederation of African Football. "Senegalese football has reached a stage where we only want to win."

Some 22 members of the 26-player squad are based in Senegal, with seven at the fabled Generation Foot academy that produced Ismaila Sarr, Mane and Pape Matar Sarr among others.

Winger Papa Amadou Diallo could be the pick of the septet, with his effective wide play likely to spark parallels with Sarr, while Lamine Camara was outstanding at the African Nations Championship in Algeria earlier this year and could make a second Tournament Dream Team in two months.

Don't be surprised if Norway-based Mamour Ndiaye -- WAFU Goalkeeper of the Tournament -- is soon dubbed the 'Next Edouard Mendy'.


Defeated by Senegal in the WAFU A final, Gambia have made serious headway across all levels in recent years, and this team certainly has the potential to make a big impact in Egypt.

Senior coach Tom Saintfiet has consistently looked at Gambia's youth sides to bolster the Scorpions' first team, and we can expect many of this under-20 squad to be further integrated in the months to come.

Bayern Munich wunderkind Mamin Sanyang could be the star attraction.

With the pace and movement to play out wide, Sanyang also boasts the guile and creativity to play behind a central striker. If he can establish an understanding with Gambian Premier League top scorer Adama Bojang, the Young Scorpions could be devastating.

Also keep an eye on skipper Alagie Saine, of Danish side AC Horsens, and Slavia Prague's Ebrima Singhateh, while Salifu Colley and Alieu Gibba (both of Real de Banjul) are talented domestic options.

South Africa-based Kajally Drammeh has made 13 appearances with Cape Town City in the Premier Soccer League -- scoring against Golden Arrows in October.


Unfortunately for the hosts, Salah Basha -- a potential star of the tournament -- won't be involved due to a hamstring injury, despite being named in the squad.

The Italy-born 19-year-old, previously on the books of Juventus and AC Milan, announced his withdrawal on his social handles before vowing to come back stronger.

Without him, Panathinaikos' Bilal Mazhar has the potential to carry the attacking threat for the Pharaohs, and he appears to be the outstanding candidate for the Golden Boot.

Born in France, the son of former Egypt and Monaco striker Mazhar Abdel Rahman has already proved devastating in the UEFA Youth League. He is the top scorer in that prestigious tournament -- prompting reported interest from Borussia Dortmund -- having scored five goals in a single game against Slavia Sofia in September.

Home supporters will also be fascinated to see how Ahmed Nader Al Sayed, another progeny of an ex-international, performs.

Egypt pride themselves on producing outstanding goalkeepers, and they'll be hoping the teenager is next in line. The fact he's the son of one of the Pharaohs' finest keepers -- 110-cap Zamalek great Nader -- influences public opinion albeit it could also heap pressure on the Portugal-based youngster.

Exciting left-sider Karim El-Debes was snapped up by Al-Ahly from Wadi Degla last year, and Cairene supporters will definitely be willing him on to have a strong campaign.


Uganda are arguably more talented than their precedeccesor who reached the 2021 final in Mauritania, and they have the capacity to be a suprise package again.

Travis Mutyaba, nicknamed 'the Ugandan Messi', boasts a dazzling skillset and he has set pulses racing more than any East African wunderkind for many a year.

He catches the eye with his speed, technique, instinctive finishing, and lethal left foot; his decision-making and awareness in the final third are also admirable for a player who turned 17 only last August.

Mutyaba starred as Uganda won the CECAFA under-15 and under-17 tournaments in 2019 and 2020 respectively, and he made his senior debut for the Cranes in January 2022.

He'll be supported by intelligent Greece-based captain Isma Mugulusi, who has an eye for a killer pass and the turn of pace to beat his marker, while centre-back Ronald Madoi will set the tone for the Hippos.

Wakiso Giants' Madoi is an effective aerial presence in both boxes, but he also reads the game well and passes sharply when Uganda look to build from deep.


Nigeria are the kings of Africa's youth football tournaments, and they have won the Under-20 AFCON on seven occasions albeit they're without gold since 2015.

There's hope they can return to the pinnacle this time around -- a 6-1 pre-tournament demolition of Moroccan side Kawkab Athletic U-23s took their tally to almost 90 goals in 19 warm-up matches -- even if this crop aren't as star-studded as years gone by.

The tireless Daniel Daga will operate at the base of the midfield, and he has already piqued the attention of senior head coach Jose Peseiro; it is understood that the vice-captain's performances in Egypt will be monitored closely.

Currently on the books of Dakkada FC, the hard-working Daga starred for Nigeria during the WAFU B Under-20 qualifiers last year, and carries a goal threat from deep.

Left winger Emmanuel Uchegbu is another player to watch, with four goals in his past four outings; he has proven to be especially effective when introduced from the bench against tiring defences.

Adams Olamilekan will be relied upon to score the goals, and the forward will surely have impressed the watching Peseiro when he scored in a 4-0 friendly victory over Capital City Football Academy.

The Remo Stars talent can feature on the wings, but he excels as a centre-forward, where his pace, power and capacity for innovation will doubtless prompt parallels with Napoli superstar Victor Osimhen.

There's no place for injured Oluwatosin Adegbite or qualifying hero Ibrahim Yahya, but keep an eye on left-footed Ibrahim 'Ibeji' Muhammed, who currently features in Spain; he can prove particularly dangerous from set pieces.

'The General' Daniel Bamaiyi, of Yum Yum FC, has been appointed captain by Ladan Bosso.


Zambia have struggled to get the best out of the promising players from their youth set-up, although that could change in Egypt as Chisi Mbewe has worked with many of the players since his time with the under-15 side.

Lusaka-based Kingston Mutandwa was the hero of Zambia's Under-20 COSAFA Challenge success last year -- scoring the winner against Mozambique in the final -- while forwards Songa Chipyoka and Rickson Ngambi ensure the Junior Chipolopolo will pack a punch going forward.

Derrick Bulaya, who scored twice in a pre-tournament friendly against Nigeria, will also be a handful.

The Best of the Rest

Debutants South Sudan are the rank outsiders, with all but one of member of their squad based in the CECAFA region. Goalkeeper Mayen Mayen plays for Australian club Western United, and his towering frame and immense athleticism make him a natural between the sticks.

Djalilou Ibrahim and versatile Cote d'Ivoire-based Malick Tongui will hope to build on their strong performances for Benin in qualifying, while Mozambique will look to Denio Pungwe Munhave and Jose Zabala, who will play with the moniker 'DJ' on the back of his shirt, to fire them out of an ominous group including Egypt, Senegal and Nigeria.

Central African Republic 's hopes will lie with in-form striker Boris Gbenou, while defender Jacques Ndecket Bowamba will likely play a key part for UNIFFAC qualifiers Congo-Brazzaville.

Tunisia have Samy Chouchane, who is on the books of Brighton & Hove Albion, and it'll be fascinating to see how Lyon's French-born Chaim El Djebali fares at this level having been tipped initially to make the Carthage Eagles' 2022 World Cup squad.