Africans Abroad: Atuahene, Kamara strike in MLS, while Afcon warm-ups begin
Following the conclusion of the European season, attention has turned to the Africa Cup of Nations warm-up fixtures, although some of the continent's stars were still in action in other leagues around the world over the weekend.
Some of the 24 Nations Cup contenders were in action in a series of friendly fixtures as viewers were afforded a brief glimpse into their teams' preparations ahead of the June 21 kick-off.
On Friday, Ivory Coast delivered a statement of intent with a comfortable 3-1 victory over the Comoros outside Paris.
Despite having never qualified for the Afcon, the islanders held their own during the qualifying campaign for the 2019 edition -- holding Cameroon and Morocco to draws -- and they might have been expected to represent tough opponents for Ibrahim Kamara's Ivorians. The Elephants made light work of them, however, Wilfried Bony scoring twice within the hour to give the West Africans control before Kassim Abdallah's late own goal confirmed the victory.
Youssouf M'Changama pulled one back at the death for the minnows, who had struggled to cope with Bony as he made his first international appearance since starting the Elephants' final group game at the 2017 Afcon.
The striker, who is out of contract at Swansea City this summer, was a surprise inclusion in Kamara's squad -- he was selected ahead of in-form Gervinho -- having endured a miserable time with injuries and form since playing a key role in the Elephants' Afcon victory in 2015.
Right-back Mamadou Bagayoko forced the opening in the 40th minute when he picked out Bony with a cross, before the former Manchester City striker capitalised on a Comoran defensive error in the 58th minute to add his second. The goals were Bony's first for the national side since he struck against the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 2017 group stage, and they duly secured his place in the final 23-man Ivorian squad named on Monday.
Simon Deli, Yohan Boli, Abdoulaye Bamba, Ismael Diomande and injured goalkeeper Abdoul Karim Cisse were the players cut from the Elephants' provisional selection.
Elsewhere, Victor Wanyama scored a second-half penalty as Kenya defeated Afcon debutants Madagascar 1-0 in a friendly outside Paris, while Wahbi Khazri and Bassem Srarfi struck as Tunisia beat Iraq 2-0 in Rades.
Guinea, who meet Madagascar in Group B, were defeated 1-0 by Gambia in Morocco, with Abdoulaye Paye Camara, Julian Jeanvier and Mikael Bertil Dyrestam all making their first starts for the Syli Nationale. There was no place for Liverpool's Naby Keita as he continues his comeback from an adductor injury.
On Sunday, Cameroon launched their Afcon preparations with a 2-1 victory over Zambia in the low-key environs of the Mini Estadio Cerro del Espino, Madrid.
Zambia responded though 2018-19 PSL Golden Boot winner Mwape Musonda, as he opened his account for the Chipolopolo after coming off the bench.
The victory was Clarence Seedorf's third win as Indomitable Lions boss, following successes against Malawi and the Comoros in Afcon qualification.
The Indomitable Lions may also have been boosted by the defeat suffered by their Group F rivals Ghana, who were stunned 1-0 by a Namibia side that took some much needed succour ahead of their ominous-looking group-stage campaign. Manfred Starke scored the only goal of the game -- which was played in Dubai -- as the Brave Warriors demonstrated they can trouble the continent's biggest sides, a quality they will need having been drawn alongside Ivory Coast, Morocco and South Africa.
For injury-ravaged Ghana, however, the shock defeat has come as another unwanted setback following the Asamoah Gyan debacle that overshadowed Kwesi Appiah's squad selection, and a spate of fitness issues that have depleted the coach's options.
Defender Musah Nuhu is the latest Black Stars player to have been ruled out of the tournament after he picked up an injury in training and returned to Switzerland last week.
Elsewhere, the Democratic Republic of Congo were held 0-0 by Burkina Faso in Marbella, while Uganda and Turkmenistan also played out a goalless draw in Abu Dhabi.
It was the same scoreline in one of the most hotly anticipated friendlies of the weekend, where Group B favourites Nigeria and Afcon dark horses Zimbabwe came together in Asaba.
While the poor playing surface at Stephen Keshi Stadium overshadowed the action -- and prompted criticism from Warriors coach Sunday Chidzambwa -- it didn't completely obscure an uninspired Super Eagles display, with Alex Iwobi going closest with a long-range effort towards the end of the clash.
Gernot Rohr didn't bring Kelechi Iheanacho off the bench as his side sought a winner in front of their own fans, and the out-of-sorts Leicester City forward was duly axed from the provisional squad-- along with Rotherham United's Semi Ajayi - when Nigeria released their final 23-man list on Monday.
Finally, two of Africa's Lusophone qualifiers -- Angola and Guinea-Bissau -- met in Northern Portugal, with the former securing the victory after two quickfire second-half goals.
While many of Africa's top stars are with their international teams in preparation of the Nations Cup, various high-profile players around the world remain on club duty.
Christian Bassogog, the 2017 Afcon MVP, has been named in Cameroon's squad for the 2019 edition but wasn't present for their victory over Zambia has he fulfils duties at club level.
The wideman drew a blank on Saturday as his Henan Jianye side were held 0-0 at Wuhan Zall, with the Cameroon international withdrawn in stoppage time for the visitors. He was well marshalled by former Indomitable Lion Stephane Mbia, who delivered a commanding display in the heart of Wuhan's defence.
Bassogog will now leave to join his international teammates in Doha, having scored four and contributed two assists in his 12 Chinese Super League outings to date.
In Major League Soccer, albeit with a reduced schedule ahead of the US Open Cup break, three African stars were on the scoresheet.
Kei Kamara ended a four-game goal drought with a fine 29th-minute header for Colorado Rapids to defeat Minnesota United 1-0.
The Sierra Leone international, who's one of only 10 players to hit over 100 goals in MLS, now has eight in 15 this term to move joint fourth in the goalscoring charts.
Only Carlos Vela, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Josef Martinez have more than the 34-year-old, and he'll again expect to be among the goals as the Rapids look to extend their unbeaten run under Conor Casey when they face New Mexico United on Thursday.
By contrast, Ghana's Francis Atuahene is at the start of his goal-scoring career in Major League Soccer, with the FC Dallas man opening his account -- only seconds into his debut -- to snatch a 2-2 draw away at San Jose Earthquakes.
After being introduced as a 64th-minute substitute for Michael Barrios, the 23-year-old marked his birthday with a fine effort after being picked out by Jacori Hayes, ending his 18-month-wait for an FC Dallas debut in some style.
At Yankee Stadium, Libya's Ismael Tajouri-Shradi added the third goal for New York City FC in their 5-2 rout of FC Cincinnati with a drilled left-footed effort.
It was a magnificent performance by Domènec Torrent's side, who tore into a 3-0 lead inside the opening half-hour, and the North African was an eye-catching presence on the right of a midfield three before his withdrawal on 63 minutes.
Nigeria-born former United States Under-20 international Sebastien Ibeagha was introduced off the bench for NYCFC, although his most notable contribution was to deflect Frankie Amaya's strike past his goalkeeper for an own goal