Guinea have announced their 23-man squad for the 2019 Africa Cup Of Nations and have included Liverpool superstar Naby Keita in the final list of players set to represent the West African country in Egypt.
Keita suffered a groin injury in Liverpool's Champions League semi-final clash against Barcelona, and a two-month injury prognosis had put his participation in the continental showpiece in serious doubt. Despite initially being ruled out of the tournament, Keita worked his way towards full fitness and arrived at the teams pre-tournament camp base in Marrakesh.
Despite being placed in a tough group in the qualifying stages wherein they were pitted against local rivals Ivory Coast, the Syli Nationale topped their group qualified for the showpiece event with ease, going unbeaten right through their qualifying campaign. Guinea will be featuring in only their 12th AFCON tournament, and this will be their first appearance in the competition since 2015.
Coach Paul Put will be looking to get the best out of the talented individuals at his disposal, and conjure something special with this Guinea side who haven't progressed beyond the quarter-final stages since reaching the final in 1976.
Their preparations for the competition haven't gone the way they would've liked though. Guinea suffered defeats in preparatory friendlies against Gambia and Benin and will be hoping to rack up a positive result in their final friendly against Egypt on Sunday.
Put's men are placed in Group B alongside fellow West Africans Nigeria, Madagascar and Burundi. Following their friendly against Egypt on Sunday, Guinea will kickstart their tournament on 22nd June against Madagascar followed by a matchup against the Super Eagles, and will close out their group stages with a game against tournament debutants Burundi.
Goalkeepers: Naby Yattara (Excelsior, Reunion Island), Ibrahima Koné (Pau, France), Aly Kéita (Ostersunds, Sweden).
Defenders: Fodé Camara (Gazélec Ajaccio, France), Issiaga Sylla (Toulouse FC, France), Ernest Seka (Nancy, France), Simon Falette (Eintracht Frankfurt, Germany), Ousmane Sidibé (Béziers, France), Baissama Sankoh (Caen, France), Mikael Dyrestam (AO Xanthi FC, Greece), Julian Jeanvier (Brentford, England).
Midfielders: Amadou Diawara (Napoli, Italy), Ibrahima Cissé (Fulham, England), Boubacar Fofana (Gaz Metan, Romania), Naby Keita (Liverpool, England), Mady Camara (Olympiakos, Greece).
Forwards: François Kamano (Bordeaux, France), Mohamed Yattara (Auxerre, France), Ibrahima Traoré (Borussia M’Gladbach, Germany), José Kanté (Gimnastic Tarragona, Spain), Idrissa Sylla (Zulte Waregem, Belgium), Fodé Koita (Kasimpasa, Turkey), Sory Kaba (Dijon, France).
Naby Keita: That coach Paul Put immensely pressured Liverpool to release Naby Keita early so that he could join up with the national camp, and have a chance of featuring for Guinea from the start of the tournament is symbolic of how integral Keita is to his country's hopes in Egypt.
A look at the national sides result without Keita in the team should give you a distilled picture of why he's so central to their hopes of succeeding at the showpiece in Egypt; the National Elephants haven't registered a victory in any game - competitive or otherwise - in which their captain did not start since 2016.
Keita is the midfield engine that kindles a fire and provides a forward thrust to Guinea. His eclectic arsenal of skills which involve driving with the ball at his feet, shimmying past defenders, bluffing them with clever shoulder drops and most crucially, connecting the midfield to the attack will be of paramount importance to the national side.
Amadou Diawara: Although he might not be getting a whole lot of game time at Napoli, there's little doubt about how good a midfielder, and how important Amadou Diawara is to Guinea's midfield.
The 21-year-old midfield metronome is adept at breaking lines with incisive passes, controlling the tempo of the game by efficiently recycling the ball and is brilliant off it as well, haggling the opposing ball-carrier by using his impressive body strength and putting in effective tackles to win the ball back.
Alongside Keita's dynamism, Diawara's poise and elegance in midfield is a perfect concoction that coach Paul Put will be hoping to fully exploit in order to propel his team's chances of going deep into the tournament.
Francois Kamano: After ably filling a Malcom-sized hole at Bordeaux, Guinea's 23-year-old winger Francois Kamano will be looking to leave a lasting impression on this continental showpiece and will be the National Elephants' most significant attacking cog.
After arriving from Bastia for a fee of £2 million, Kamano has matured as a player at an incredible rate and shoulders most of Bordeaux's attacking responsibilities in Ligue 1.
Of the Guinean's plethora of attacking traits, what's most striking is his ability to run with the ball at his feet with insane pace and exhibit incredible ball control in close quarters. Kamano scored 12 goals for Bordeaux in all competitions last season and is certainly going to face the weight of expectations going into the tournament.
Guinea Fixtures at AFCON 2019
Guinea vs Madagascar, 22nd June
Guinea vs Nigeria, 27th June
Burundi vs Guinea, 30th JunePublished 14 Jun 2019, 13:02 IST