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African stars in the UEFA

Champions League semi-finals

The UEFA Champions League semi-finals pit Manchester City against Real Madrid, and AC Milan versus their bitter rivals Inter in a couple of hugely intriguing ties that will be staged over two legs starting on May 9.

There will be a number of Africans stars hoping to add their names to the illustrious list of past champions in Europe’s elite cup competition. Here is a look at those still with a shot of glory.

FodeBallo-Toure (AC Milan, Senegal)

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Ballo-Toure - Senegal
Ballo-Toure – Senegal

The French-born Senegal international is in his second season at AC Milan, and while he has been used sparingly this campaign, has played a part in the Italians reaching the semi-final stage with four appearances to date in the Champions League.

Ballo-Toure is a left-back who began his professional career with Paris St-Germain, but really rose to prominence with Lille in the 2017/18 campaign. He signed for Monaco two years later before arriving at the San Siro in 2021 on a four-year deal. At the senior international level, he made his Senegal debut two years ago and helped them lift the Africa Cup of Nations title in Cameroon, and made a single appearance at the world Cup in Qatar coming in the second round defeat to England.

Ismael Bennacer (AC Milan, Algeria)

Bennacer has been a stalwart for AC Milan this campaign, and every year since he joined the club from Empoli in 2019. He has been a regular starter since then, weighing in with a few goals, but his role as a defensive midfielder is one he fill superbly.

Born in France, he was a junior international with that country until he switched allegiances to Algeria in 2016 and has been a key player for them ever since, helping the North Africans to lift the 2019 Cup of Nations title.

He also claimed the Scudetto with Milan last season, when he featured in 31 of their 38 league games. Bennacer was a junior at English side Arsenal, but made just a single appearance in the League Cup before a loan move to French second-tier side, Tours,in which he caught the eye of Serie B Empoli.

He helped the Italians to promotion and after an excellent first season in the topflight at the Stadio Carlo Castellani, was snapped up by Milan and has not looked back. He has featured in nine Champions League games for Milan this season, and got what proved a crucial goal in the 1-0 quarterfinal first leg win over Napoli.

RiyadMahrez (Manchester City, Algeria)

Mahrez - Algeria
Mahrez – Algeria

Not always a regular for Manchester City these days given their huge array of talent, Mahrez is still a top performer whenever he does make it onto the pitch. He proved that with his recent hattrick in the FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United.

The French-born Algeria international flew under the radar in the early part of his career at Le Havre, and even the early part of his stay at English side Leicester City. But his reputation was forged on the back of the 17 goals he scored in the 2015/16 season as The Foxes completed the impossible and won the Premier League title.

He stayed two more years at the King Power Stadium before a £60-million transfer to Manchester that made Mahrez the most expensive African footballer at the time. Goals and assists have flowed since and he has always been in the first team thoughts of manager Pep Guardiola. He has played in eight Champions League fixtures this season, scoring three goals and will be eager for his chance in the semifinals having played in the loss to Chelsea in the 2021 final. Mahrez is an Algeria international who helped the side to the 2019 Cup of Nations title.

Andre Onana (Inter Milan, Cameroon)

Onana– Cameroon
Onana– Cameroon

The former Cameroon international goalkeeper has been a star for Inter this season following his move from Ajax Amsterdam, doing well to keep the more experienced Samir Handanovic out of the side, who had the No 1 jersey for the previous decade. Onana seems to have put behind him the furore at the World Cup in Qatar, where he fell out with Cameroon national team coach,Rigobert Song and went home early from the competition.

He has since retired from the Indomitable Lions. Still only 27, he will likely get better, but is already a top performer, as he proved in eight years at Ajax, though that included 12 months on the sidelines after testing positive for a banned substance, meaning he missed the second half of the Champions League semifinal run in 2020/21.

Born in Cameroon, he was a part of the Samuel Eto’o academy early on, which led to a move to Barcelona’s junior set-up. He did not play a first team game for the Catalan giants, instead moving to Ajax’s juniors in 2014 and then taking the step up to the senior side in 2016/17, where he became an instant regular, winning three Dutch titles. He is the last line of defence for Inter, and will be crucial in their bid to see of local rivals, AC Milan. -MzansiFootball

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