ONE of the most open African Cup of Nations tournaments in living memory gets underway in Gabon in January. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) highlights his best Top Goalscorer bets.
AFCON 2017 | 14 January – 5 February | Eurosport
Since the turn of the century, African Cup of Nations tournaments have averaged just 2.34 goals per-game. Only twice in those nine competitions have the goals per-game surpassed the 2.50 mark and the low-scoring nation of the event makes picking a Top Goalscorer selection devilishly difficult.
The above paragraph, coupled with the open nature of AFCON 2017 and the poor return of big-name players in the market, is more than enough encouragement to look a little below the radar as we search for a goalscorer to support in Gabon.
The hosts’ captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is 6/1 (Ladbrokes) favourite to succeed and understandable considering he’s notched 21 goals in 52 appearances for the Panthers. The Bundesliga marksman the best striker in the competition and in a modest group, could easily take advantage.
But I’m not in the business of backing 6/1 shots at AFCON in the Top Goalscorer market. Islam Slimani (10/1 Betway) is next in line and with Algeria’s behind the scenes troubles and the Leicester hitman not even guaranteed his place in the starting XI, I’ll happily swerve.
It may surprise a few but Jonathan Kodjia is in pole position to start up front for tournament favourites Ivory Coast, ahead of Wilfried Bony. The Aston Villa forward has notched three goals for his nation since making his debut but the Elephants’ biggest asset is their defence so again, I’ll brush over.
Say hello to Salah
Mohammed Salah (14/1 each-way BetVictor) is the only big-hitter who holds appeal. The Roma star is Egypt’s go-to man for goals and the speedster also shoulders set-piece responsibility for the Pharaohs.
Salah’s struck nine goals in 17 appearances for club and country this season and with 27 goals for Egypt at the age of 24, the versatile forward is already ninth on the all-time goalscorer list. Housed in a manageable pool, if the Pharaohs are to progress deep into AFCON 2017, Salah will be vital.
Senegal’s secret star
Senegal are my favourites to clinch the trophy in early February but all the Top Goalscorer attention is on Sadio Mane (14/1 Ladbrokes) and Moussa Sow (33/1 Coral). But at a much bigger price, it’s worth getting involved with Keita Balde Diao (40/1 each-way NetBet).
The Lazio wideman plays in the front-three and has been a revelation in Serie A since arriving in Italy. A former La Masia academy star at Barcelona, his pace and trickery can cause all sorts of problems and with most attention focussed upon Mane, Balde Diao can fly under the rader.
The 21 year-old has already scored five goals in 15 league games in 2016/17, as well as notching twice in five Senegalese appearances since signing up to the country of his parents birth.
Considering I’ve talked up Mali’s prospects as dark horses at AFCON 2017, it makes sense to have a wee flutter on their leading light going forward, Moussa Marega (40/1 each-way Bet365).
Marega is enjoying an excellent season in Portugal with Vitoria de Guimaraes and up until recently was sitting joint-top goalscorer in the top-flight. He’s a wild card but he’s physical and shown this season he has the finishing ability to trouble opposition defences.
Finally, a shout-out to Cedric Bakambu who’s been quoted at a crazy 80/1 (Bet365). The DR Congo striker might be a victim of rotation with the Leopards boasting an array of quality forward-thinking options but even so, Bakambu should never be an 80/1 shot.
Since arriving in Spain, the 24 year-old has really impressed with Villarreal and the front-man has taken that form onto the international scene too, scoring four goals in only nine matches for DR Congo.
Injury blighted the start of his 2016/17 campaign but should the La Liga ace find his form here, he’ll be leave out of the side having also top-scored for the nation during qualification en-route to AFCON 2017.