The Guinean midfielder was the best of Liverpool’s African trio of players in the first stage of the tournament.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané may be the bigger names, but of the three players Liverpool sent to the Africa Cup of Nations it was Naby Keïta who stood out with the best performance in the group stage of the tournament. The Guinean midfielder’s impressed enough that he earned a place in the starting XI of the best players from the first phase of the tournament.
In addition to scoring a stunning long-range goal in a loss to Zimbabwe, Keïta earned man of the match honors in a scoreless draw with Senegal and a 1-0 win over Malawi, and ultimately he helped Guinea qualify for the round of 16 by taking second in their group. Unfortunately, the 26-year-old will miss his country’s knockout round tie with Gambia tomorrow thanks to a suspension earned by picking up a pair of yellow cards in the group stage.
Keita was still overshadowed by Salah and Mané, despite earning more accolades in the group stage, which LFC assistant manager Pep Lijnders was quick to point out when asked about the absence of the pair of wingers before the second leg of the League Cup semi-final this week.
“First of all, we miss three players from the Africa Cup of Nations,” said Lijnders. “Everybody forgets Naby. Naby, two times, best players of Guinea, and during the last game he scored. So, we miss him as well and we forget this.”
That’s not to say Salah and Mané haven’t had successes of their own thus far. Both scored penalty kick goals and advanced out of the group stages. Salah’s Egypt finished second in their group and Mané’s Senegal finished top. They both played well enough to earn spots on the bench in the Best of the Group Stage team.
While Keïta will only be able to watch and hope his team can advance to the quarter-finals without him, the two wingers will be looking to help their countries move on. Senegal will get their chance and be heavy favorites against Cape Verde on Tuesday, while Egypt will face a stiff test against Ivory Coast on Wednesday.