By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

A look at German football's 19 AFCON representatives

Fans of international football tournaments find themselves flush with great action in the first month of the new calendar year. One of the globe's most treasured footballing competitions also arrives with the 34th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations!

Having already taken a look at the 12 top and second division players headed to Qatar to partake in the AFC Asian Cup, we're now pleased to cover all the actors bound for Cote d'Ivoire for Africa's continental showpiece.
German football fans find themselves spoiled for choice when it comes to viewing the upcoming 34th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations. The largest field of German club players ever get set to compete in the third African continental championship since the number of competing nations was expanded to 24 squads. Eleven of the countries seeking to claim the crown carry at least one German club player on their roster. Whereas twelve first and second division players are headed to Qatar to partake in the upcoming AFC Asian Cup, a massive field of 19 shall travel to Cote d'Ivoire for this tournament.

The number of German participants in one of the greatest footballing competitions on the planet vastly exceeds the field we discussed two years ago. All but two of the representatives (Ransford-Yeboah Königsdörffer of Hamburger SV and Oussama Haddadi of SpVgg Greuther Fürth) play in the German flight. We shall note that Victor Boniface's recent injury technically reduces the number of Bundesliga players from 19 to 18. As a means of honoring the Leverkusen striker's historic and prolific season, Boniface is nevertheless given brief treatment below.

As was the case in the recent AFC Cup companion piece, some historical context related to the nations covered in the introductory piece ahead of our coming coverage of the tournament. Germans - as they have for many years - will be keeping tabs on the developments down south on the "Big Continent". African football fandom lives in the Bundesrepublik! Kickoff on Saturday cannot come soon enough! Bundesliga enthusiasts send warm wishes for "view Erfolg" to all of their participating club players!

Cote d'Ivoire: "Les Elephants"

The 2015 continental champions occupy a special place in the hearts of all footballing diehards. Even the less African-inclined football lovers shall forever treasure the manner in which Les Elephants dramatically took the 2015 title in that prolonged 11-round penalty shoot-out against Ghana. The video of Didier Drogba's family sweating their way through the shoot-out remains - in the opinion of many - quite possibly the best thing ever shared on the internet. Few will be disappointed to see the hosts capture their third AFCON title here.

The Ivorians made the transition to a global footballing force on German soil, qualifying for their very first World Cup in the 2006 Bundesrepublik hosted tournament. The glory days that followed (two more consecutive World Cup qualifications and six consecutive AFCONs in which they at least made the quarterfinals) were accomplished in part with the help of Bundesliga regulars such as Arthur Boka, Guy Demel and Didier Ya Konan. Hertha BSC's Salmon Kalou was among the heroes who converted for the team in the 2015 shoot-out.

Kalou's time in German football unfortunately came to a rather ignominious end when the Hertha professional posted a video in which he blatantly disregarded COVID regulations at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. We retain much fonder memories of Bundesliga mainstays such as Boubacar Sanogo, Jean-Philippe Gbamin, and Constant Djakpa. We've two Bundesliga players to root for on head-coach Jean-Louis Gasset's roster this time around. It's somewhat sad to reflect on the fact that former Eintracht star Evan N'dicka no longer belongs to us.

Odilon Kossounou, Bayer 04 Leverkusen

The returnee from the 2021 roster has now firmly established himself with Germany's red company team. League leading Leverkusen shall certainly miss the 23-year-old; a starter in all 15 league fixtures thus far this season and generally regarded as one of the best central defenders in the German top flight.  Kossounou scored his first Bundesliga goal this year in the round 11 rout of 1. FC Union Berlin. He's truly been a very active force for die Werkself. Germany's preeminent footballing publication recently selected him as the best center back of the Hinrunde.

An exceptionally strong tackler who consistently presses high on his right-hand-side, Germans consider watching him to be an absolute treat. The future looks exceptionally bright for the now €35-million-valued 23-year-old. One expects a monster tournament from him as well. He gradually worked his way into the Ivorian XI two years ago. This time one anticipates that he'll start from the beginning. Bundesliga enthusiasts can't wait too welcome his well-rounded game back. Keep an eye out for his courageous combo play out of the back-right!
Sebastien Haller, Borussia Dortmund

The once famed member of Eintracht Frankfurt's "Buffelhürde" returned to German football last year, only to have to immediately contend with a testicular cancer diagnosis. He finally laced up for Borussia Dortmund last spring after chemotherapy kept him out for the first-half of the campaign. Dortmund welcomed him back with much fanfare. The center-halve circle at Signal Iduna Park was re-fashioned to resemble a testicular tumor on World Cancer Day last February. Haller scored his inaugural goal for the club on that very day, his first BVB home start.

After scoring nine goals and pocketing five assists during what was a very respectable "Rück-runde", Haller hasn't factored in much for Dortmund this season. Some injury issues - combined with the arrival of Niclas Füllkrug - have left him without a start since round four. Though he did bag a brace in the opening round of the Pokal, he hasn't gotten his name on the scoresheet in any of his four starts or nine relief appearances across all competitions. National team form remains decent, with four goals scored for Les Elephants in the last calendar year.
Additional notes on Ivorian football in Germany:

FC Union Berlin loanee David Datro Fofana didn't survive Gasset's final cutdown. The Chelsea man's time in the Bundesrepublik featured plenty of flashes of brilliance, along with some disciplinary issues that saw him benched. A mere two goals in 17 appearances across all competitions leaves Fofana coming in well below expectations. Some expected that - with his career revived at VfB Stuttgart - Ivorian heritage defender Dan-Axel Zagadou might have piqued the program's interest. Alas, that never came to pass.

Nigeria: "The Super Eagles"

The 2013 continental champions supplied us Africa enthusiasts with their own fair share of beautiful nostalgia. The team that year - coached by the late, great Stephen Keshi - gave us all hope that an African national team trainer could lead a national program to the promised land. Those of us who routinely buy out the store whenever the new Super Eagle kits come out found ourselves heartbroken when Nigeria failed to qualify for the next two AFCONs. Kehsi's unexpected death in the summer of 2016 still stings. So too does the harsh semi-finals elimination in 2019 under German trainer Gernot Rohr.

A country as massively large and densely populated as Nigeria naturally always meant that European fans had Super Eagle expats to cheer on at their club teams. This African footballing powerhouses pumps them out endlessly. Striker Jonathan Akpoborie actually spent his entire professional career in the Bundesrepublik. Others like Sunday Oliseh, Jay-Jay Okocha, Victor Agali, Chinedu Obasi, Leon Balogun, and the (still active with Braunschweig) Anthony Ujah lent us their most formative years.

Many Germans still follow the player who represented the Bundesliga in the last AFCON. Current Nottingham Forest striker Taiwo Awoniyi happens to be one of the few German football exports thankfully thriving on the Isle. How long will it be until our latest representative makes the jump to an EPL side? At the rate he's going, former Union St. Gilloise center-foreatd Victor Boniface might be a €100-million-valued player before the start of next season. Only a brief form slump this autumn kept him from cracking the €60-million-mark.
Victor Boniface, Bayer 04 Leverkusen

The numbers speak for themselves. Sixteen goals in 23 appearances across all competitions for the undefeated Werkself. Boniface has literally taken German football by storm. Köln trainer Steffen Baumgart famously remarked that he thought he was worth as much as Harry Kane based on his performances for Union SG. Most of us Germans not only must sheepishly concede that Baumgart had a point, but had to embarrassingly admit that we were pronouncing his name wrong during his Europa League appearances last season. Everyone knows how to pronounce it know.
Additional notes on Nigerian football in Germany:

Do spare a care for poor Kevin Akpoguma of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. The once promising German youth international has worked hard to extend his game so that he's capable of playing as a fullback/wingback on both sides. Convinced by Rohr to switch allegiances, the Neustadt-native found himself passed over for selection at the last AFCON. Akpoguma also didn't make Jose Pesseiro's roster this time. The 28-year-old wasn't even invited to the pre-tournament camp.

Matters nearly got doubly depressing for Akpoguma when two of his Hoffenheim bench warming teammates - Diadie Samassekou and Kasim Adams - received invitations to join their respect countries (Mali and Ghana) on the pre-lim squads. Samassekou made the final Malian roster. Adams lost out on the final Ghanian cutdown. Perhaps Akpoguma isn't feeling so dour thanks to the latter piece of news. He's always welcome back on the German team! We can use all the damn help we can get.

The author also wishes to get in a brief mention on Düsseldorf native Maduka Okoye. Not even on the initial tournament roster two years ago, Okoye had was activated at the last minute to fill in for three injured keepers ahead of him on caretaker trainer Augustine Eguavoen's squad. The former Leverkusen man started in goal for Nigeria in the first two group stage matches, keeping a clean-sheet against Egypt in the opening fixture. Eguavoen placed him back in goal for the round-of-16 encounter against Tunisia, which unfortunately saw the super Eagles eliminated.

Sad  that Okoye hasn't caught on with a club yet.

He has plenty of fans in the Bundesrepublik!

Egypt: "The Pharaohs"

The story of the Pharaohs continues to constitute the absolute wildest rollercoaster ride to ever take place on the African continent. Prior to the Port Said stadium disaster, Egypt were the three-times defending AFCON Champions. The harsh rebuilding years that followed saw them then miss out on qualifying for three consecutive tournaments. Though they made it all the way to the Final upon their return in 2017, the South Africans knocked them out on home soil in 2019 in the round-of-16. Some match that was! All of us Africa lovers retain clear memories of that sensational upset.

The Egyptian team that made the Final two years ago did so almost in spite of itself. Two of their three knockout round victories came via penalty shoot-out after goalless draws. The Bundesliga representative we're set to discuss below started all seven matches for Carlos Quieroz's Egypt that year. Reflecting back on matters now, one can admit that the legendary Portuguese trainer identified something in this player that many of us German football watchers unfairly dismissed. Omar Marmoush is currently in the midst of the best season of his career for Eintracht Frankfurt.

Marmoush still has some ways to go should he wish to join the Pantheon of Egyptian Bunesliga legends like Hany Ramzy, Yasser Radwan, or Mohamed Zidan. The first two might not even be known by some of the younger German footballing enthusiasts, but the writer assures them that the former Kaiserslautern and Rostock professionals lit up the league in their day. Zidan was the only German club footballer active in the Egyptian team's three peat. Mainz and Dortmund fans alike still adore him.
Omar Marmoush, Eintracht Frankfurt

Finally, it's managed to click for the 24-year-old. Two years ago, this chronicler doubted that he would make Quieroz's final roster. Marmoush's lackluster year on loan at Stuttgart (three goals in 2021/22) and a generally ho-hum season back with parent club Wolfsburg (six goals in 2022/23) left us uninspired. When he signed with Eintracht on a free this offseason, little fanfare followed him. No one expected Marmoush to explode for 12 goals across all competitions this year and pump up his estimated market worth from €8 million to €15 million.

Marmoush exhibits the signs of a much more mature player at this point in his career. Odd that - deployed consistently as a center forward for the first time by SGE trainer Dino Toppmöller - he's demonstrated an improved knack for drifting into half spaces on both the right and left slant. Much of Marmoush's success does owe itself to the fact that he also has an unexpectedly solid midfield behind him as well. That notwithstanding, his movement, striking ability, and general intuition have all improved by leaps and bounds. Kudos to him for recording four assists this season as well.
Additional notes on Egyptian football in Germany:

With the three main Egyptian stars of German football listed above, we'll expend a little space outlining just how far Marmoush must travel in order to catch up with the greats. The Eintracht striker recently drew level with former Otto Rehhagel protégée Ramzy for total number of league goals scored. In fairness, Ramzy was a center back. Marmoush likely needs another three seasons to equal the number of deployments Radwan fit in during his six seasons at Rostock. No sense in mentioning Marmoush in the same breath as Zidan for a while yet. We'll require another decade plus for that.

Ghana: "The Black Stars"

The 2. Bundesliga's lone representative in this year's competition struggles through his current club campaign. Berlin-native Ransford-Yeboah Königsdörffer successfully made the jump from the 3. Liga to the second division with Dynamo Dresden. His first season in the Unterhaus after moving to the HSV in the summer of 2022 also counted as a success. Unfortunately, the 22-year-old's career has stalled. Königsdörffer's 2023/24 stats include only one goal and two assists in 18 appearances across all competitions.

Königsdörffer's co-surname Yeboah accords us a segue to the player most of us consider the best Ghanian footballer of all time. Legendary striker Tony Yeboah leads all Ghanian internationals ever active in the Bundesliga (not counting German convert Gerard Asamoah) in appearances. Yeboah racked up 223 league deployments for Eintracht Frankfurt and Hamburger SV in the 90s. The later Leeds United professional also put in two years of memorable service with 1. FC Saarbrücken in the northern Regionalliga.

Königsdörffer bears no relation to Yeboah. In point of fact, Yeboah's actual nephew just completed an injury-riddled loan stint with Augsburg that left us all disappointed. So many hopes dashed there. For a brief moment, we thought he might join the pantheon of German-Ghanaian greats. Those names are legion: Otto Addo, Ibrahim Tanko, Samuel Kuffour, Hans Sarpei, Isaac Vorsah, and Abdul Rahman. Those are just the top-tier names. No, the author hasn't forgotten the three famous "Boateng brothers of Charlottenburg".

A very pleasant retirement to "The Prince"!
Ransford-Yeboah Königsdörffer, Hamburger SV

The youngster himself has publicly admitted his surprise over his call-up to Chris Hughton's "Gold Coast Playaz". Königsdörffer's dip in form for his club hasn't even logged meaning minutes for his country since September of 2022. This constitutes a huge opportunity for him to reclaim his status as a potential top-tier player. Königsdörffer's decline meant that links with top-tier-sides dried up this year. The versatile attacker can still nevertheless help his club team - presently third in the 2. Bundesliga table - achieve promotion this year if he can regain his touch.
Additional notes on Ghanaian football in Germany:

The list of German footballers who could have potentially made this squad is rather long. Kasim Adams of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (mentioned above) only just barely missed out. Kwasi Wriedt (Onsnabrück) and Stephan Ambrosius (Karlsruhe) have been called up in the last twelve months. Christopher Antwi-Adjei (Bochum), Daniel Kofi-Kyereh (Freiburg), Braydon Marvin Manu (Darmstadt), Hans Nunoo Sarpei (formerly of Fürth and Ingolstadt), and Roberto Massimo (Stuttgart) are among the names still eligible. Former Köln winger Kingsley Schindler is on the roster.

The inclusion of attacking midfielder Joseph Paintsil left Germans feeling a tinge of excitement. Even if the Genk professional isn't (to the writer's knowledge) related to the famous John Paintsil, the fond memories still surface. Former Fulham and Leicester City fullback John fearlessly pulled an Israeli flag out of his shorts during a goal-celebration at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany as a means of expressing appreciation for the land that granted him asylum and protesting against the holocaust denying of then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

One of international football's greatest moments.

Guinea: "Syli National"

The "National Elephants" gift us with three Bundesliga professionals to root for this time, even if two of them don't feature prominently for their club teams. Stuttgart scoring sensation Serhou Guirassy nevertheless more than compensates for Leipzig transfer disaster Ilaix Moriba and congenitally injured summer SV Werder Bremen addition Naby Keïta. General African enthusiasts have come to rely upon this team to furnish excitement at the continental championship. They've attained the knockouts in all three of the last AFCONs for which they've qualified in 2015, 2019, and 2021.

The most prominent memory of Guinean football most of us retain has to be the insane drawing-of-lots at the end of the 2015 group stage. Michel Dussuyer's Elephants - that year captained by Borussia Mönchengladbach's Ibrahima Konaté - wrapped up the group phase tied with Mali on head-to-head, overall goal difference, and goals scored. With all the tiebreakers exhausted, a bizarre raffle took place at the Hilton in the Equatorial Guinean capital of Malabo. Strange and enrapturing stuff. Guinea draw the long lot and advanced to the quarterfinals.
Naby Keïta, SV Werder Bremen

Back-to-back injuries precluded Bremen's blockbuster summer signing from gracing us with his presence on the pitch. The former Leipzig pro has thus far only made three league appearances for his new club. What we witnessed in a pair of relief stints on match-day five and six left us spellbound. A prematurely aborted deployment on his first start for the Hanseaten on match-day seven then left us all with our heads in our hands. The 28-year-old simply cannot buy a spot of luck.

German football lovers frankly can't wait to see the former RB system product succeed once again. His legal imbroglios during his last stint in the Bundesrepublik regrettably overshadowed what amazing talent he possesses. He's always struck league watchers as a dynamic and energetic box-to-box  rover. Were it not for his slew of injuries, Keïta would fit the bill as FCB trainer Thomas Tuchel's much sought-after "holding-six". Suffice to say that we recognize his skills and he retains our sympathies.
Ilaix Moriba, RB Leipzig

Germans honestly can't tell anyone much about the former promising Spanish youth international. Moriba technically served as a Bundesliga representative two years ago as well. In the 24 months that have elapsed since, the 20-year-old hasn't logged a single minute of action for his German club. Back-to-back loan stints to Valencia look to be followed up with another ship-out to Spain. We caught more of him in the 2021 AFCON than we did in our domestic competition. The misunderstanding regrettably continues as Moriba's latest loan reportedly does not contain a purchase option.
Serhou Guirassy, VfB Stuttgart

Anyone claiming to have known that this former Köln bust and oft-injured VfB Stuttgart 2022 procurement would explode into the Bundesliga's biggest scoring sensation isn't being truthful. A bolt of lightning simply struck right inside a narrow-necked bottle. No one foresaw this, not even the national program of the West African footballing nation he choose to represent. Guirassy wasn't even called up to the 2021 AFCON. He hadn't even made his debut for Guinea yet. At that time, the striker hadn't even scored his first hat trick at club level.

In his 11th season playing as a professional, the 27-year-old smashed every previous goalscoring mark he ever set in the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 early this year. Nineteen goals across all competitions for the Württembergers this year. A quadrupling of his estimated market worth up to €40 million. An almost certain future playing amounts the elite in the English Premiership. Where the hell did all this come from? No one can say for sure. His sublime touches on some of these goals defy explanation. He appears to be the real deal, though injury problems do persist.

One simply enjoys the ride.
Additional notes on Elephantine football in Germany:

In the process of covering five separate AFCON tournaments between 2013 and 2021, this writer often took upon itself to ensure that readers remained educated on the differences between the three separate African "Guinea" countries: Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Equatorial Guinea. The fact that similarly named countries (Papua New Guinea, French Guiana, and Guyana) also exist across the globe tend to leave everyone confused. It's a total geographical snafu. Only the real nerds keep it straight, and they too sometimes have

Germans retain a bit of an advantage in that the largest "African Guinea" has given us recognizable names in the form of Gladbach's Traoré, Leipzig/Bremen's Keïta, Köln/Stuttgart's Guirassy, and Köln/Sttuttgart/Bayern/Wolfsburg's Pablo Thiam. Whew! Quite the catalog. That doesn't mean that we too don't get it mixed up at times. Guinea-Bissau and Guinea can usually be distinguished by the fact that the former generally produces Portuguese names whilst the latter is mostly Francophone.

As the case of Thiam illustrates, however, Spanish-influenced names can always be thrown in the mix. Equatorial Guinea throws one similar curveballs. Such was the case with German female footballing great Genoveva Añonman Nze of the former FrauenBundesliga giants Turbine Potsdam. The author shall never forget the skills she showcased in the Bundesrepublik, yet still routinely forgets which African country she captained despite the fact that he once watched the Equatorial Guinean women play live in Germany.

Algeria: "The Fennecs"

Germans were never fond of the "Desert Foxes" moniker ascribed to the 2019 continental champions. The existence of Erwin Rommel wasn't exactly something that the denizens of the Bundesrepublik cared to be reminded of. We weren't exactly fond of the nerve-wracking meeting with Vahid Halilhodžić's Algerian national team in the 2014 World Cup round-of-16 either. The mere mention of that panic-inducing affair fills German diehards with dread. On the road to the 2014 World Championship, the Algerians came closest to knocking us out.

The famous night in Porto Allegre on June 30th 2014 (the evening on which the Manuel Neuer morphed into the famous "sweeper keeper" of lore) still springs to mind whenever Germans consider this country's program. Those of us with African inclinations also maintain respect for the many players who have been representing the Algeria for over a decade. Islam Slimani, Riyad Mahrez, Sofiane Feghouli, Raïs M'Bohli, Aïssa Mandi, and Baghdad Bounedjah are generally familiar names in our circles despite the fact that they never played in our country.
Ramy Bensebaini, Borussia Dortmund

Bensebaini joined Borussia Mönchengladbach after Algeria captured the AFCON title in the summer of 2019. He immediately took off in the Bundesliga and was among one of the key performers in the Marco Rose squad that claimed top place in the table until December of that year. He would go on to rack up nine scorer points (four goals and five assists) en route to helping Gladbach qualify for the Champions' League at the end of the 2019/20 campaign. The prolific left-back scored a total of 26 goals across all competitions for the foals in four seasons spent with the BMG.

Since joining Dortmund on a free this past summer, however, Bensebaini hasn't really been able to establish himself with Germany's second richest club just yet. The 28-year-old has just one assist to his credit in 21 appearances across all competitions and is widely considered to have been one of this year's biggest transfer flops. It might even be the case that he returns to the BVB having found his starting slot taken from him. Bensebaini's estimated market worth has dipped to €12 million. Some rumor mills suggest he might be loaned out.
Fares Chaibi, Eintracht Frankfurt

We transition from one of the summer's biggest transfer flops to one of the seasons biggest successes. Fares Chaibi's classification in the German press as a "Jesper Lindstrøm" replacement left most of us chuckling. It didn't seem as if the stockier Algerian could be likened with the pacey and snake-hipped Dane. Chaibi ended up proving us all wrong with a surprisingly successful start for his new German club. Chaibi actually impresses more than Lindstrøm in some respects with his feel for spaces and positional awareness of his colleagues.

The 21-year-old has registered four assists in league play. He enjoys immense respect among the "pre-assist" wonks as a player who has - according to various trackers - been significantly involved in more than a dozen SGE goals. Chaibi himself has netted two tallies of his own; one in the Bundesliga and another in the Conference League. His ability to adapt to versatile roles in Eintracht trainer Dino Toppmöller's unsettled set of tactics leave many of certain that he's worth at least double the reported €10 million Eintracht paid for him.
Additional notes on Fennec football in Germany:

Bensebaini recently passed former Bochum and Lautern midfielder Antar Yahia and German top-tier journeyman Karim Matmour to become the Algerian international with the most German club deployments. Matmour remains the most famous and beloved Fennec in German footballing circles thanks in part to the fact that he settled in the Bundesrepublik after his playing career was over. Yahia caught some ire for his outgoing transfer demands when playing for the Revierklub. Former Schalke midfielder Nabil Bentaleb also isn't a very popular footballer amongst Germans.

Matmour could definitely use some company in the class of respected Algerian footballers with German club ties. We once thought that Ishak Belfodil might turn into a consistent thriver after his 16-goal-season in 2018/19 for Julian Nagelsmann's Hoffenheim. Belfodil nevertheless never scored another goal for the Sinsheimers in two subsequent seasons and (to the surprise of few) proved an absolute flop at Hertha BSC. One keeps fingers firmly crossed for the two representatives here. Chaibi is certainly off to a running start with us.

Burkina Faso: "The Stallions"

The always-entertaining Burkinabé squad have made the semi-finals in three of the five last AFCONS. There are plenty of Stallion enthusiasts within the German population. This harkens back to the early aughts when the Burkinabé duo of Wilfried Sanou and Jonathan Pitroipa joined up with SC Freiburg. Both Sanou and Pitropia adapted to the Bundesrepublik well, learned the language, and enjoyed successful careers in German football. The effervescent and eminently likeabl;e pair remain good friends to this day and run a developmental academy together.

Pitroipa delivered the goods as one of the breakout stars of AFCON 2013. He left us bursting with pride. Former Mainz star Aristide Bancé also featured on that excellent tournament squad. More than a few of us were sad to see Pitropia and Bancé falter on the 2015 team that got eliminated in the group phases. Bancé still maintained his supporters on the 2017 incarnation that punched through to the semis. The player we're about to discuss kept up German interest on the 2021 team that did the same.
Edmond Tapsoba, Bayer 04 Leverkusen

As was made clear two years ago, German football watchers recognized the massive potential inherent in the Ouagadougou-native who joined German football in January of 2020. Tapsoba had not been playing for Germany's red company team long before we all realized what we had. Even at the tender age of 21, Tapsoba possessed all the hallmarks of a well-rounded center-back: fierce tackling timing, superb creativity on attack builds, and striking recovery speed. Something very special indeed.

Tapsoba's developmental path over the past two years hasn't always proceeded on a smooth upward trajectory. Some form dips in the previous campaigns were discernible. The emerge of Tapsoba's fellow African teammate Kossounou, along with a mighty resurgence from German defender Jonathan Tah, leave him receiving less attention as Bayer's third-best central defender. Tapsoba - in the midst of a very strong season in which he's tallied twice in the Europa League and once in the Pokal - gets unfairly squeezed out there.

The most salient fact concerning Tapsoba's budding career in the Bundesrepublik remains the surprise with which his €21 million purchase from Vitória de Guimarães was greeted. At the time, his worth was appraised at well under a quarter of that. After it quickly became apparent that Tapsoba possessed the type of skill set akin to German greats like Jerome Boateng and Per Mertesacker, we all immediately understood. Tapsoba is estimated to be worth well over €40 million today. May he continue to thrive!
Additional notes on Burkinabé football in Germany:

Like Pitroipa and Kanou, Tapsoba enjoys favorable regard in German footballing circles for his top-class personality. The rich tradition of popular Burkinabé players in the Bundesliga appears set to continue. Former Köln, Oberhausen, Koblenz, and Essen professional Alassane Ouédraogo's son Assan Ouédraogo is on the rise at Schalke. The biggest clubs in Germany's top flight presently compete for his services. The younger Ouédraogo has already represented Germany at youth level, unfortunately missing out on the U17 championship due to injury.

Ouédraogo still generates plenty of buzz. Just like his old man, the teenage phenom radiates work ethic and humility. Something about Upper Voltan culture simply jives with German values. The "Land of Honest Men" receives support both in a footballing and general sense. It proved most unpleasant to experience the 2022 coup during the last AFCON. Watching the team punch through to the semis despite the political upheaval at home nevertheless remained inspiring. Auf gent's Stallions!

Tunisia: "The Eagles of Carthage"

The 2004 continental champions always appear on the precipice of claiming their second AFCON title. They've qualified for all ten tournaments since winning it all on home soil twenty years ago. The squad has also attained the knockouts in all but two of those competitions, going deepest with a run into the semis during the 2019 summer tournament. Many Germans followed the 2019 team closely as Freiburg-native Mohammed Dräger and the Köln born Marc Lamti both featured on Alain Giresse's Carthaginian roster.

Tunisian emigration to the Bundesrepublik has always been heavy due to the proximity factor. Tunisian internationals such as Adel Sellemi, Mehdi Ben Slimane, and Zoubeir Baya (all of Freiburg) were already regular Bundesliga fixtures in the 1990s. Karim Haggui, Sami Allagui, and Änis Ben-Hatira were laying the groundwork for their long and prolific German footballing careers by the early part of the next decade. Our current set of representatives anchors Jalel Kadri's team. Previous representative Ellyes Skhiri is joined by two others.
Ellyes Skhiri, Eintracht Frankfurt

Bundesliga fans greeted Skhiri's unexpected decision to remain in Germany this summer with a great deal of joy. Despite plenty of interest from large clubs in other countries, the long-time Köln midfield linchpin opted to sign with Eintracht Frankfurt as a free agent this summer. Some surprise for us to retain the privilege of watching him every week. Slightly hindered by some unlucky injury issues, Skhiri's early days with his new club nevertheless qualify as a success. He's scored five goals across all competitions for the SGE. Tallies are evenly spread across league, cup, and the UECL.

The rise of young Swedish prospect Hugo Larsson (another Eintracht summer signing) clearly has much to do with Skhiri's tutelage in midfield. SGE trainer Dino Toppmöller slowly groomed Larsson by initially having him play behind the steadier and solid Tunisian, then gradually letting him test out his burgeoning skills with higher deployments above the veteran. Bearing this in mind, Skhiri certainly deserves to be taken into consideration as one of the most valuable signings of the summer. One expects some great performances from him in the coming tourney.
Aïssa Laïdouni, 1. FC Union Berlin

Along with Croatian international Josip Juranovic, Laïdouni served as one of Union Berlin's two marquee signings during the January 2023 transfer window. The Tunisian and the Croat raised their profile with notable performances in the 2022 Winter World Cup. FCU managing director Oliver Ruhnert developed a reputation as a manager who could do no wrong after acquiring the pair, both of whom thrived in their initial six months playing for the Köpenick side. Laïdouni immediately slotted into a starting slot and collected three scorer points.

The former Ferencváros man has slightly exceeded those production numbers this year, registering three assists in the league, cup, and UCL. General grades in the German press remain high for the attacking midfielder. Amid Union's "crash-and-burn" Hin-runde, Laïdouni maintains higher marks cumulative marks than any of his outfield colleagues. Only keeper Frederik Rønnow scores better. Laïdouni's estimated market worth continues to rise, reaching a career-high of €10 million in the latest transfermarkt update.
Oussama Haddadi, SpVgg Greuther Fürth

The 31-year-old 27-times-capped international is something of a new addition to German football. Africa fans recall the former Dijon man from the 2019 and 2021 Tunisian squads. Haddadi only just signed on with his German second-division side some 18 months ago. The left-back played as a regular starter for the Kleeblätter last year and has held his slot this season. Though he hasn't managed to get his name on a Bundesliga score-sheet yet, Haddadi is generally regarded as an indispensable part of a Fürth defense that's kept an incredible ten clean sheets this season.

Fürth count as surprise promotion candidates thanks in part due to Haddadi's solid work at the back. SpVgg trainer Alexander Zorniger has singled the 27-times-capped international out for special praise several times over the course of the year. Fans of the Kleeblatt appear to appreciate him much in the same way that supporters of local rivals Nürnberg heralded Tunisian defensive specialist Jawhar Mnari. The story of a player who found his home in the Bundesrepublik late in his career always pleases the fan-base.
Additional notes on Carthaginian football in Germany:

With the greats already mentioned in the introductory paragraph, we'll use this section to discuss the absence of FC St. Pauli winger Elias Saad. The 24-year-old Wilhelmsburg-native had the potential to be this tournament's version of Dräger or Lamti. Saad exhibited fine form for his Hamburg-based club this season, scoring five goals in 20 appearances across all competitions. He earned his first call-up to the Tunisian national side this autumn. An international breakthrough seemed imminent. Everything proceeded at warp speed for the late bloomer.

The emergent attacker only recently made the jump to German professional football and opted to decline a November call-up in order to fully focus on getting his club career going. The question of whether he might be open to returning to Jalel Kadri's team was left open until the last minute. The Kiezkicker - already missing two key players to the Asian continental championship - breathed something of a sigh of relief when Saad decided to remain home. The player remains worth keeping an eye on. Perhaps his time will come soon.

Mali: "Les Aigles"

German football has hosted more than its fair share of "Aigles" in recent years. The SGE fan-base harbored plenty of respect for defender Almamy Touré. The fullback - after signing for Kaiserslautern this November - is already a big fan-favorite on the Betzenberg Hill. Freiburg legend Boubacar Diarra may not have enjoyed the same success when he moved to Lautern late in his career, but was absolutely beloved by Pfälzer and Bresigau enthusiasts alike. The same applied to Freiburg and Frankfurt hero Soumäila Coulibaly.

Malian happens to be another one of those African nations perpetually fighting through domestic turmoil to deliver successful tournaments. The 2012 incarnation (which featured Freiburg's Garra Dembelé) and the 2013 squad produced the most memorable competitions. Both Malian teams made the semi-finals in back-to-back years. Plenty of Bundesliga fans followed the last three teams (2017, 2019, and 2021) at the AFCON as all three had at least on German club player on the roster.

Both Bundesliga representatives from 2021 return.
Amadou Haidara, RB Leipzig

Appreciation for the long-time Leipzig professional runs deep in German footballing circles. Even those not too terribly fond of the "RB system" respect one of the German Red Bulls' most elegant "assist-meisters". Nearly all 12 of the assists he's recorded across all competitions in the last four seasons stick in the mind, as do many of his 13 RB tallies. Ordinarily deployed as a deep-seated midfielder, Haidara demonstrates a knack for pushing forward when it counts. His trademark move of cushioning the ball whilst his teammates maneuver is famous.

Two years ago, the author simply referred to Haidara as an "awesome footballer". Having added some additional detail to back that statement up, one can think of little else to say beyond reiterating that glib statement. He's a real talent. On several occasions, he's drifted out of the starting XI. Any hint of falling out of relevance permanently nevertheless never transpires. RB trainers invariably end up turning to him. He responds by delivering each time. This season he's pocketed one assist in 14 strong appearances across all comps.
Diade Samassekou, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Here we have a fascinating case to discuss. What happened to the one-time Hoffenheim regular who once stood tall against the best Bundesliga players and, as a result, was once heralded as "the next big thing". Following three seasons as a regular starter for TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Samassekou dropped out of favor with TSG trainer André Breitenreiter ahead of the 2022/23 campaign and lodged a transfer request. The Sinsheimers obliged and made a clear attempt to rid themselves of him with a built-in purchase option.

The 35-times-capped international didn't necessarily do terribly last season with Olympiakos, but his performances failed to convince the Greek giants to sign him permanently. Moreover, hoped-for interest from other clubs didn't materialize. Samassekou returned to Kraichgau this past offseason. He's made one meaningless 90+ substitute appearance. His estimated market worth has dipped from its peak of €20 million all the way down to €2.5 million. Hoffenheim openly wish to shed his reported €2.7 million annual salary.

Samassekou's fall mostly relates to issues stemming from difficulties dealing with his cadré of familial agents and representatives. It's not the case that the 27-year-old's enormous potential evaporated overnight. Competition on the current roster (Florian Grillitsch and Anton Stach) hinders his ability to reassert himself in defensive midfield. Perhaps he can make a statement here.
Additional notes on Malian football in Germany:

One might think based on the introductory paragraph that "Les Aigles" produced nothing but success stories in Germany. The careers of Boubacar Diarra and Soumaïla Coulibaly can certainly leave one thinking that. In fairness, there were a few more forgettable flops. The case of Frankfurt-native Bakary Diakaté springs to mind. Coulibaly himself had a younger brother (coincidentally named Boubacar) who never caught on at Freiburg. Coulibaly himself now routinely gets confused with the Dortmund prospect of the same name currently on loan at Antwerp.

This brings us to the topic of Malian names. While other countries in the region (such as Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire) employ similar naming customs, Mali always requires extra fastidious double checking. Reporting on players representing this African nation isn't for the "skimming researchers". Literally ever Malian footballer has a counterpart with exactly the same name. To take the most extreme example, five separate players carrying the name Adama Traoré of Malian heritage have played professional football. Two of them served on the same 2019 Malian tournament squad.

"Traoré" and "Coulibaly" remain the most used surnames in all of professional footballing history. Players utilizing the names are generally Malian in half or so of cases, but may very well be Bukrinabé, Ivorian, or converted representatives of some other African or European country. Prior to the 2019 tournament, players using precisely the same name were usually distinguished by the year of their birth. This became impossible in the 2019 competition as both Adama Traoré's were born in the same year. Those of us who wrote on the tourney won't soon forget using "Adama Traoré I & II".

Morocco: "The Atlas Lions"

Something of a dark cloud looms over German enthusiasm for the Atlas Lions this year after two Dutch Bundesliga professionals of Moroccan heritage - Bayern's Noussair Mazraoui and Mainz's Anwar El Ghazi - generated controversy for anti-Israeli social media posts earlier this year. Speech questioning Israel's right to exist - for obvious reasons - is not constitutionally protected Germany. The row over what is a sensitive and uncomfortable subject in the post-war pacifist Bundesrepublik got even dicer when, more controversially, El Ghazi lost his job over his post while Mazraoui escaped discipline.

Recent events sadly overshadow a generally positive history between these two countries. Some of the programs most successful players such as Younes Belhanda, Youssef Mokhtari, and Mehdi Benatia played in Germany. Thirty-seven-times-capped Moroccan international Rachid Azzouzi followed up his successful playing career by becoming one of German footballs most respected administrators. Homegrown talents Hamadi Al Ghaddioui and Aymen Barkok put together respectable careers on home soil.

Yes, we still miss Achraf Hakimi!

Tsk, tsk. Dortmund fans can only weep.
Noussair Mazraoui, FC Bayern München

Mazraoui has actually twice ran afoul of FCB ultras. There was another dust-up last spring after the former Ajax star took an unpopular position on a cultural issue involving compatriot Zakaria Aboukhlal. Bayern supporters - part of a generally left leaning cohort of football fans in the country's former West - responded with light and unmalicious protest banners. Mazraoui's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict proved much more serious. Bayern had to work exceptionally hard to mitigate the situation after one Bundestag member called for him to be expelled from the country.

With respect to performance matters, the summer 2022 addition had some difficulty gaining regular playing time in his first season with the German giants. While he did notch his first Bundesliga goal and assist under the Julian Nagelsmann regime, it was only after Thomas Tuchel took over that Mazraoui truly received a chance to audition for the regular starting right-back role. He finished the 2022/23 campaign strongly and has picked up four assists in 16 appearances across all comps this year. Most league watchers consider him a sporting success, though not really a huge one.
Amine Adli, Bayer 04 Leverkusen

In stark contrast to the cases of Mazraoui - and perhaps also the unpleasant tale Schalke's Amine Harit - Adli has been an absolute breath of fresh air; a player every bit as popular as his Leverkusen teammate and fellow AFCON representative Edmond Tapsoba. Very much like Tapsoba, Adli effectively blindsided a lot of Bundesliga watchers with his unexpectedly rapid development. Considered a long-term prospect signing in the summer 2021 transfer window, Adli found himself called into action early due to injuries.

He racked up an impressive six scorer points (three goals and three assists) in 25 league appearances during his first season with die Werkself. Adli followed that up with 11 scorer points (five goals and six assists) in 26 league appearances in his sophomore campaign. The former French youth international netted goals in all three competitions for Germany's red company team this year, bringing his totals to nine league goals, three in the domestic cup, and four in the Europa League.

Not bad for a young lad who still isn't a regular starter! Adli's market value now stands at an estimated €25 million. Few, if any, foresaw such a rapid rise. German fans tend to like him more following the classy manner in which he handled falsely being booked for diving twice in a match against Bayern last spring. The sky seems to be the limit for the 23-year-old after he's already tallied once in his three caps for his heritage country. One wishes the young attacker all the best of luck!
Additional notes on Moroccan football in Germany:

The previous tournament's Bundesliga representative Aymen Barkok dropped off the national team radar after his move from Frankfurt to Mainz left him mere benchwarmer. Some serious finishing issues in a recent league fixture likely leave Barkok without much of a chance of earning regular starts anytime soon. One sincerely hopes that Barkok isn't headed on the same downward trajectory as other promising Moroccan Bundesliga players such as Mimoun Azaouagh, or Hamza Mendyl.

Of some interest, Schalke flop Nassim Boujellab surprisingly grabbed a slight career lifeline with some inspired performances for DSC Arminia Bielefeld in the third division this year. Düsseldorf native Ayman Azhil also gained something of a toehold for the Borussia Dortmund reserves. A pair of potential future Moroccan internationals still stand a chance of making it in German football if they can carry the momentum gained from the 3. Liga. Azhil finished 2023 especially strongly.

Congo DR: "The Leopards"

The Leopards return after failing to qualify for the 2021 competition. Germans remain ecstatic at the first chance to root for one of their favorite players; the VfB Stuttgart attacker christened "Silas" following the unfortunate bombshell and subsequent legal wrangle over his actual name. The case of "Silas Katompa Mvumpa" easily constitutes the biggest "hard-luck-tale" in German club football over the course of the last decade. The once sure-fire talent never fully recovered from the ACL-tear that cut his 2020/21 campaign short. The legal troubles came whilst he was still recovering.

Bundesliga enthusiasts retain fond memories of this country's run to the semi-finals in the 2015 tournament. Bundesliga veteran and German citizen Cedric Makiadi ended his career on a high note by finishing third that year with the team. There already existed some sympathy for the country due to the successful Bundesliga careers of Kakoko Etepé, Hervé Lembi, and Assani Lukimya-Mulongoti. A common joke that year involved Wolfsburg loan Dieumerci Mbokani finally finding his shooting points.

Players such as Marcel Tisserand and Chadrac Akolo gave Germans some grounds to root for the 2017 and 2019 tournament teams; both of whom did furnish some excitement by making the knockouts. Silas nevertheless pumps up interest to the highest level in eight years. The attacker still hasn't had the honor of scoring for his national team. Should that occur in the coming competition, rapturous applause shall ring out throughout the Bundesrepublik. The country's press won't be able to contain themselves.
Silas, VfB Stuttgart

The totals prior to his ACL tear (13 goals and five assists across all competitions in 2020/21) make one genuinely sad. Silas failed to get his name on the scoresheet during nine appearances the subsequent year. Additional injury problems cut his long-awaited comeback short. Long goalless stretches during the 2023/24 campaign left many wondering if he would ever pull himself back up to Bundesliga level. Thankfully, a goal in last year's relegation playoffs and a brace on the opening day of this season left Silas well poised to get back in the saddle.

Despite the fact that the competitive situation within Sebastian Hoeneß' squad have sometimes pushed him out of the XI, the Kinshasa native finally begins to resemble his old self. Five goals and five assists across all comps count as respectable figures. A solid tournament could work wonders for him here. Fans considered the legal fines forced upon him to be rather unfair. The same applied to some of criticism leveled at him last year after the club seemingly expressed a commitment to him with a new deal.

Fingers firmly crossed!
Additional notes on Congolese football in Germany:

Congo DR's lone World Cup appearance came at the 1974 German-hosted tournament. That also happened to be the year (competing under the Zaire name at that time) that this country captured its last AFCON title. Some year that was. Mohamed Ali and George Foreman duked in out in Kinshasa in 1974 too. The above-mentioned Kakoko Etepe featured on both tournament rosters. It would still be a few years before Etepé blazed the trail for footballers from this nation in Germany. He did end up becoming one of Africa's first 1980s German success stories.

The CAF legend initially signed on with Stuttgart before moving to Saarbrücken in 1982. Etepé eventually recruited fellow countryman Jean "Santos"  Muntubila to play for Saarbrücken and himself settled into the area to raise a family. Kakoko's Saarbrücken-born son Yannick worked in the FC Bayern Academy for a time before embarking on a journeyman career throughout the German lower divisions and Polish league. Most Germans remain familiar with Etepé's story as it's a truly heartwarming one.

Etepé, like many early African footballers in the Bundesrepublik at that time, never played football full-time. His journey to Germany came via a part-time job at a local Mercedes plant. The company sent him to Stuttgart to train with the Bundesliga side based on his athletic ability. After three years of waiting for a visa and four more working with the VfB reserves, he made one single solitary Bundesliga appearance with the Swabians. The author can virtually guarantee that, should Silas succeed, Etepé's name will crop up once again in numerous articles.

Thanks so much for reading! You can catch the release of all Peter's columns (and occasionally catch him goofing off) on whatever the hell they're calling twitter these days @PeterVicey.

Peter is a massive global football fan who has been blogging about international tournaments for twenty plus years. He welcomes your company! Twitter DMs are open for football conversations, corrections, and (if you truly insist) general abuse. 

Full color re-posts of the columns are eventually archived on Peter's website.....which he promises to get around to updating at some point. Football scribes aren't always the greatest at the whole self-promotion thing!

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