North Africa dominates ESPN's Afcon qualifiers Dream Team

After a pulsating week of international football across Africa, the continent's sides find themselves two thirds of the way through the gruelling Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign.

There were off-field dramas and on-field excellence aplenty during an action-packed few days, with several nations booking their tickets to the tournament in Cameroon, while others are out of the reckoning for good.

Looking back over two engrossing matchdays, ESPN's Ed Dove picks out his African Dream Team of the international break.

Aishi Manula (Tanzania)

Despite being outgunned and outplayed for large portions of their double-header against Tunisia, Tanzania registered a narrow 1-0 defeat and a 1-1 draw, taking a point which could serve them well as they look to reach the Afcon.

Despite conceding just once each game, the Taifa Stars were hardly resolute at the back, with a nervy backline allowing plenty of shots to rain in on Manula's goal.

However, the stopper demonstrated remarkable agility and bravery to keep the Tunisian attackers at bay time and time again, even overcoming what looked to be concussion in the first game to return between the sticks and repeatedly thwart the opposition forwards.

He may have conceded the penalty in the defeat in Rades, but things would have been much worse for Tanzania had it not been for Manula's heroics.

Mahmoud El-Wensh (Egypt)

El-Wensh was Egypt's saviour in their first match against Togo, scoring the only goal of the game as the Pharaohs sidestepped a potential banana skin and put a testing week behind them.

Without Mohamed Salah, who had tested positive for COVID-19, the North African giants lacked a cutting edge going forward, but the centre-back headed home in the 53rd minute to settle the nerves and ultimately claim all three points.

In the reverse bout, he helped Egypt to a 3-1 victory in Lome, with the visitors only conceding in the third minute of stoppage time.

Mosha Gaolaolwe (Botswana)

The unlikely hero as Botswana defeated Zambia 1-0 in their second match of the week -- having lost the first fixture between the pair -- to take the Zebras above Chipolopolo in the group standings.

Gaolaolwe opened the scoring in the sixth minute -- thigh-ing the ball home when a speculative cross evaded Kelvin Kapumbu and Luka Banda -- and then played his part in a sterling, resilient defensive display as Botswana held the visitors at bay.

Read: Where do the teams stand after Afcon qualifiers break?

Marcel Tisserand (Democratic Republic of Congo)

The DRC picked up their second and third clean sheets of the qualification campaign with Saturday's 0-0 home draw with Angola, and the 1-0 victory over Os Palancas Negras in Angola on Tuesday.

Defensively, there aren't too many more solid outfits in Africa right now, and credit must go to the central defensive partnership of Chancel Mbemba and captain Tisserand.

While neither would have been out of place in this selection, the latter gets the nod for the leadership he brings to the backline and for his composed work with the ball at feet, carrying it in possession and linking up with the midfield.

Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)

The Manchester City star's irresistible individual quality was on show as he almost single-handedly eviscerated Zimbabwe at the weekend.

The wideman was everywhere, picking up Said Benrahma's sumptuous long-ball before bewitching the Zimbabwe defenders with a shimmy and a shuffle before slamming home into the roof of the net in the 2-2 draw between the pair.

He'd previously netted the third in the first match, a 3-1 triumph, again demonstrating his superb agility to dart through the visiting defence to round off the victory.

Hakim Ziyech (Morocco)

Translating his recent Chelsea form to the international arena, Ziyech scored twice in the first match against the Central African Republic -- a 4-1 victory for Morocco -- before opening the scoring in the second match as Les Fauves were defeated 2-0.

His second goal in the first match -- a curling left-footed effort from outside the box -- was the pick of the bunch, and Ziyech also contributed an assist to help an Atlas Lions side who were somewhat flattered by the scoreline all but confirm qualification.

Andre Ayew (Ghana)

While Ghana were unable to break down Sudan in the second match between the pair, ultimately falling to a 1-0 defeat, they remain in command of Group C after downing the Falcons of Jediane 2-0 on Thursday.

It was one of Andre Ayew's finest performances for the national side in recent memory, as he took his tally to 19 for the Black Stars, emulating the haul of his legendary father Abedi Pele.

His second goal, exuding confidence as he slalomed around the Sudanese backline, running rings around them on the edge of the box, before firing into the far corner, served an ample reminder of his quality.

His first goal - a left-footed free kick - was another touch of class, and he was sorely missed with a leg injury for the return match.

Saidi Ntibazonkiza (Burundi)

The veteran wideman demonstrated the qualities that prompted Tanzanian heavyweights Young Africans SC to sign from Vital'O as he helped to breathe life into Burundi's qualifying campaign.

After defeats in their opening two fixtures, they desperately needed points on the board in their double-header against Mauritania.

In the first match, with Burundi 1-0 down, Ntibazonkiza equalised in the 79th to rescue a point, and then scored twice in the second match -- a goal in each half -- to second a 3-1 victory in Bujumbura.

His first, a calm finish from the edge of the six-yard box, steadied the hosts, and then curled home a right-footed free kick to take the contest beyond Les Mourabitounes.

Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon)

In recent international breaks, Cameroon have been accused of lacking quality and imagination in the final third; they were turgid in a 0-0 draw with Japan last month, failed to break down Cape Verde in their opening Group F bout, and were stymied for over an hour against tiny Rwanda during the early stages of Toni Conceicao's tenure.

If the Portuguese coach is to achieve some success with the Indomitable Lions, he needs to continue getting the best out of Aboubakar, who scored three goals across two matches against Mozambique this time out.

After netting in the first match, the Besiktas striker and Lions captain took the knee to pay tribute to the victims of last month's Kumba school massacre in Cameroon's Southwest Region.

Youssef Msakni (Tunisia)

Tunisia made hard work of their fixtures against Tanzania, enjoying the lion's share of possession but struggling to impose themselves on their lesser opponents.

In both fixtures, however, Msakni was the difference-maker; winning and converting the penalty in the opening match in Rades, and then contributing the assist for Saifeddine Khaoui to open the scoring in the return match in Dar-es-Salaam.

The four points takes Tunisia to the 2022 Nations Cup -- they've now qualified for every edition since 1994 -- and the interplay between Msakni and Wahbi Khazri again suggested, on occasion, that they can be contenders in Cameroon.

Percy Tau (South Africa)

Bongani Zungu took to social media to criticise Bafana Bafana fans for not giving their full support to the team after a pair of victories against Sao Tome e Principe, and he and his teammates have every right to feel aggrieved.

Admittedly, there are some rough edges -- such as a defence that conceded twice in Port Elizabeth -- but going forward, these were very eye-catching performances by South Africa, with Tau particularly menacing.

He opened the scoring in the first match, converting from the spot, and then bagged two late goals in the return match to take the contest beyond the islanders.

The Anderlecht man has now moved into the Top 10 Bafana scorers of all time, drawing level with the legendary Siphiwe Tshabalala.

Honourable Mentions:

Sadio Mane, Mohamed El Shenawy, Chancel Mbemba, Youssouf M'Changama, Jodel Dossou, Alex Iwobi, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Ibrahim Amada, Said Benrahma, Luka Banda, Knowledge Musona, Ablie Jallow, Baghdad Bounedjah