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Europa League: Toko Ekambi setting the pace for African frontmen

13:01 GMT+3 09/03/2022
Karl Toko Ekambi Lyon 2021-22
The Olympique Lyon frontman leads the scoring charts and he will look to flourish in both legs against Portuguese giants Porto

The last 16 of the Europa League was meant to be about three African frontmen: Karl Toko Ekambi, Patson Daka and Victor Osimhen, who had scored six, five and four goals respectively in the group stage.

However, exits for Leicester City — who dropped to the Europa Conference League — and Napoli — eliminated by Barcelona in the playoff round in February — has put paid to any three-way battle observers may have fancied.

Be that as it may, the Olympique Lyon forward knows he cannot rest on his laurels. Not when the Ligue 1 side, unbeaten in all six group games (five wins), face Porto this week knowing full well a negative result in Portugal could leave them on the brink of elimination.

Toko Ekambi hitherto ranks as the sharpest shooter in Europe’s secondary club competition, scoring six times from Expected Goals of 2.5, an overperformance that is unrivalled heading into the first-legs of the Round of 16.

It would be remiss to not consider the face-off with Wenderson Galeno, who has also netted six times in this year’s competition.

The fact all six Ekambi's strikes have come from open play — whereas Galeno has been a beneficiary of penalties — is commendable and makes him Lyon’s biggest attacking threat against Chancel Mbemba and Zaidu Sanusi.

Throw in the Cameroonian’s two assists and his goal contributions rise to eight, outranking every player in the competition thus far.

Without a doubt, Peter Bosz’s team will rely upon the attacker as they look to end a run of four games without beating their Round of 16 opponents.

Lyon have lost three of their four meetings with the Portuguese side, twice falling to defeats without scoring at Estadio do Dragao, a statistic Toko Ekambi and his colleagues seek to end.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may not have envisaged playing European football this term, but a January transfer to Barcelona means he gets to feature in the Europa League yet again.

The Gabon superstar scored in Barca’s 4-2 win over Osimhen’s Napoli, opening his EL account for the club and taking him to 23 goals in the competition.

Xavi’s team face Galatasaray and the striker will look to edge even closer to Radamel Falcao’s 30-goal tally, the tournament’s all-time goals record.

Despite this year’s turbulence in the Turkish top flight, Sofiane Feghouli was Gala’s top goal contributor with two goals and an assist as they topped Group E at Lazio’s expense. The Yellow-Reds are underdogs, but they will hope for some European cheer despite a wretched continental run against Barca that has seen them win only one of eight encounters.

One of the round’s biggest games pits Sevilla against West Ham United.

The side from Seville surprisingly exited the Champions League earlier than expected, yet the motivation of claiming a seventh crown on their turf in May ought to fuel the side from Seville.

Yassine Bounou’s duty will be to prevent goals from the likes of Said Benrahma, whose three goal involvements helped the Hammers finish as comfortable group winners, while Youssef En-Nesyri ought to get a run out at some point against David Moyes’ troops.

Nigeria’s Rangers contingent was instrumental in the Scottish side’s 6-4 aggregate victory over Borussia Dortmund in the playoff round, with Joe Aribo particularly brilliant in the 4-2 success in Germany.

While Leon Balogun got only 45 minutes of action across both legs, the versatile Calvin Bassey played commendably against BVB. Fashion Sakala got no game time in both fixtures, but the forward who made two starts in the group phase will be ready to thrive if called upon by Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

Guelor Kanga, El Fardou Ben and Sekou Sanogo all played prominent roles as Red Star Belgrade topped Group F, pipping Sporting Braga by a point, and they will aim to claim a huge scalp by defeating defending Scottish champions.

Edmond Tapsoba and Odilon Kossounou started three games each for Bayer Leverkusen in the group stage and could feature for the Bundesliga outfit against Gian Piero Gasperini’s team who eliminated Olympiacos 5-1 on aggregate in the playoffs.

Sporting Braga and Monaco face off on Thursday with history not favouring the Portuguese outfit having previously exited this competition to French sides in 2008/09 and 2017/18.

Al Musrati was in fine form to help Braga eliminate Sheriff Tiraspol in February, defeating the Transnistria outfit on penalties having played out a 2-2 draw on aggregate.

The Libya midfielder could face off with Krepin Diatta who featured in three of Monaco’s games in the group stage, starting two, although game time has widely been a rarity for the Senegal international this term.

This week’s seven clashes all carry their importance to the teams involved, with each side looking to get positive results to put them in good positions heading to the reverse fixtures.

Toko Ekambi has thus far set the competition alight and he will back himself to maintain those standards in what has been an incredible campaign in Europe’s secondary club competition.