On Wednesday night, this season’s UEFA Champions League quarter-finals were completed with four teams discovering their next opponents in the run to win Europe’s biggest trophy. Two La Liga sides will battle it out with their Premier League rivals in the semi-finals.
As it stands, Real Madrid, who eliminated Chelsea on Tuesday, will face Manchester City in the next round’s standout game. On the other hand, Villarreal, who stunned Bayern Munich and Juventus on their road to the semis, will meet with another English giant Liverpool.
The Yellow Submarines held Bayern to a 1-1 draw at Allianz Arena, with a late equalizer from Nigerian star Samuel Chukwueze securing their 2-1 win on aggregate.
While Samuel Chukwueze and his side continue their dream run in the Champions League, there will be African players with more UCL experience in the next round.
Here is a look at the 8 African players who will play in the Champions League semi-finals this season.
1. Boulaye Dia (Villarreal) 🇸🇳
Dia was not in Villarreal’s squad for their quarter-final games against Bayern Munich. Unai Emery decided to bring more backup players for his defensive lines, leaving the Senegalese striker out of his 22-man list.
However, the 25-year-old, who won the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal in February, has played in 20 La Liga games for the Yellow Submarines this season.
And having already starred in six Champions League games this season, Dia might get a chance to feature against Liverpool in the next round.
2. Naby Keita (Liverpool) 🇲🇱
The Mali star has shown significant signs of improvement in his performances for Liverpool this season. Baby has improved his position in the Reds’ pecking order while displaying several impressive performances when playing as a substitute.
The 27-year-old started both quarter-final legs against Benfica, providing an assist for Luis Diaz in the first game. Considering his recent performances, it would not be surprising to see him in Liverpool’s lineup for their upcoming clash against Villarreal.
3. Aissa Mandi (Villarreal) 🇩🇿
Aissa Mandi is another African star who plays for Villarreal. He was on the Yellow Submarine’s bench when they drew 1-1 against Bayern Munich on Tuesday. The Algerian center-back can play as a backup for both Pau Torres and Raul Albiol at the heart of the Spanish side’s backline.
With Villarreal preparing to meet Liverpool’s fearsome firepower, Mandi will most likely make it to Emery’s squad for the next round.
Meanwhile, he has featured in 13 league games for the Villarreal in their current campaign, starting 11 of them. Not a bad season for the center-back.
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4. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) 🇸🇳
Mane has been crucial to Liverpool’s run to the semi-finals this season. After winning the AFCON with Senegal earlier this year, the 30-year-old is now eager to claim his second Champions League title.
Although Klopp did not include Mane in his starting lineup for the quarter-final battle against Benfica at Anfield. However, the experienced striker came in as a substitute for Luis Diaz in the 66th minute.
With Liverpool competing in four competitions, we might see the German coach rest Mane more often. But the tie against Villarreal will most likely see the 30-year-old star in another crunch Champions League battle.
5. Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal) 🇳🇬
The Nigerian forward scored the most crucial goal of his career when he smashed the ball past Manuel Neuer in the 88th minute of Villarreal’s clash against Bayern at Allianz Arena.
With that goal, Villarreal was sent straight into the semi-finals of this season’s Champions League and for the first time in the club’s history. Impressively, it was only four minutes after the Nigerian star came off the bench. It was Chukwueze’s seventh Champions League appearance this season, with the 22-year-old usually playing as a backup for Gerard Moreno.
Meanwhile, Samuel Chukwueze’s great pace can, once again, become Unai Emery’s wild card when they meet Liverpool in the semi-finals. Hopefully, they can pull off another Champions League miracle against the Reds.
6. Serge Aurier (Villarreal) 🇨🇮
Serge Aurier has gradually regained his best form since joining Villarreal as a free agent last year from Tottenham Hotspur.
Although the Ivorian defender is still behind Juan Foyth in the Yellow Submarine’s pecking order. However, his recent performances in La Liga have convinced Unai Emery to give him more minutes in the Champions League.
Having registered an assist in Villarreal’s 3-0 win over Juventus, Aurier featured in both legs against Bayern Munich. Thus, having an experienced right-back in the squad will provide Villarreal’s defence with more flexibility against Liverpool’s star-studded front line.
7. Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City) 🇩🇿
It was an unusual night for Man City forwards when they ended their game against Atletico with a goalless draw. However, the result was enough to send Mahrez and his teammates to the semi-finals.
Pep Guardiola rested Mahrez against Liverpool earlier this week, planning to reserve his physical presence for the Atletico battle. His plan worked out perfectly as the Algerian made a significant contribution to City’s clean sheet with his quick defensive runs.
But predicting Guardiola’s lineup for the Real Madrid game is not easy, with the Spaniard having several top-class stars for his side’s attacking positions. However, if the Spaniard decides to hurt Real Madrid by putting pressure on their full-backs, The Algerian will most likely retain his place in the Citizens’ starting XI.
8. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) 🇪🇬
Having missed out on a place for the upcoming World Cup with Egypt, Salah is now fully focused on Liverpool’s quadruple run. The Egyptian star is central to Liverpool’s attacking plans, with Klopp carefully managing his star striker’s workload.
Although Mohamed Salah did not start against Benfica on Wednesday, missing a chance to improve his goal tally in the Champions League. Having scored eight goals in the tournament, Salah will be a key player to break through Villarreal’s tight defense in the upcoming semi-final tie.
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