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Five outstanding players from African World Cup qualifying

Egypt, Tunisia and Nigeria all took giant steps towards next year's World Cup with big results during this week's African World Cup qualifiers, while Ghana revived their faint hopes of reaching Russia by smashing Congo-Brazzaville 5-1.

Meanwhile, continental giants Cameroon and Algeria were eliminated from the running, while the likes of Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Ivory Coast may all be left to rue results that went against them.

Here, we profile the five players who impressed the KweséESPN team the most during matchday four of Africa's World Cup qualifying campaign.

Thomas Partey, Ghana: The Atletico Madrid midfielder delivered a simply outstanding display for the Black Stars as they smashed Congo-Brazzaville 5-1 to breathe life into their dimming World Cup hopes.

Kwesi Appiah's side are still four points off the pace with two matches to play, but the picture would have been a whole lot worse had it not been for Partey, who netted the equaliser in the dismal first match in Kumasi, and then inspired Ghana to a resounding victory in Central Africa.

Diego Simeone has used the powerhouse sparingly - and in a deeper role - in recent seasons, but performances like this demonstrate just what an effective presence he can be higher up the pitch.

Garry Rodrigues, Cape Verde: Nuno Rocha was Cape Verde's star man during their 2-1 come-from-behind victory over South Africa in Praia, but it was his compatriot Rodrigues who stepped up to the plate in the return fixture in Durban.

The Galatasaray wideman opened the scoring with a sensational free kick, before killing off the contest with an excellent effort from outside the box as he cut in on his right foot and sent a thunderous effort beyond Wayne Sandilands.

They were two strikes of exceptional quality, and while Rodrigues spoke after the match about how he and his teammates must still work hard to achieve their World Cup "dream", neither Senegal nor Burkina Faso will be able to cage the 26-year-old.

Leon Balogun, Nigeria: John Obi Mikel, Odion Ighalo and Victor Moses stole the lion's share of the headlines after the Super Eagles' 4-0 demolition of Cameroon in Uyo, but it's hard to pick too many Nigeria players who impressed more than Balogun during the international window.

The defender's international career has been regularly punctuated by injury setbacks, but now fit, he's able to prove his quality alongside William Troost-Ekong in the Super Eagles' Oyinbo Wall at the back.

Balogun's ease with the ball at his feet - a legacy perhaps of playing in a back three at club level - made him an ideal outlet for the Super Eagles, operating in something of a libero role, when the West African heavyweights found themselves under pressure in their 1-1 draw in Yaounde.

Denis Onyango, Uganda: Unlike in Namboole, when Onyango was true to his word and managed to keep Mohamed Salah and Egypt at bay in a famous 1-0 victory for the Cranes, the stopper was beaten by the Liverpool forward in the return fixture in Alexandria.

The Pharaohs ultimately avenged that 1-0 away loss with a triumph that puts them back in top spot, but Onyango ensured that Uganda remained in the game until the death, with a series of remarkable stops.

He reaffirmed his status as the best Africa-based keeper - if not player - on the continent with outrageous saves to deny Abdallah El-Said, Ramadan Sobhi the deny Salah a second.

Richmond Boakye, Ghana: The powerful forward is another player who's been made to wait to for his opportunity at international level, after regularly being made to wait over a year between call-ups.

He scored twice in four appearances during Avram Grant's tenure, but hadn't been considered by the national side for two years - since a victory over Rwanda - before being called up for this international weekend.

Asamoah Gyan's injury prompted Kwesi Appiah to turn to the Red Star Belgrade man, and he transformed his club form to the national side and contributed two goals in Ghana's 5-1 triumph over Congo-Brazzaville.

Appiah - or whoever replaces him - must ensure that Boakye is not cast off into the wilderness again, as there aren't too many other Ghanaian forward who can offer the ex-Juventus man's combination of qualities.

Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.


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