Salah or Aubameyang: Who will win the AFCON Golden Boot?

Laurens: Inevitable Aubameyang would be stripped of captaincy (0:56)

Julien Laurens feels Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being stripped of the Arsenal captaincy was to be expected. (0:56)

Africa's finest attackers are set to descend on Cameroon in January as the continent's top sides compete for the Africa Cup of Nations, but who will go home with the top scorer award?

In the past, all-time greatest such as Samuel Eto'o, Rashidi Yekini, and Benni McCarthy have left their mark as the outstanding goal-grabber at the continental showpiece, while unlikely names such as Junior Kabananga and Mubarak Wakaso have also departed with the prize after taking the tournament by storm.

With just a couple weeks to go till the big kick-off on January 9, here are 10 of the top contenders for the 2021 AFCON Golden Boot.

10. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Ok, so the Gabon striker is heading into the tournament on the back of a miserable time at Arsenal, but despite his recent troubles, Aubameyang still deserves respect as one of the most lethal attackers in the African game.

His track record in the Bundesliga and the Premier League -- albeit before his recent slump -- represents the kind of pedigree that few can match, and surely his current situation at the Emirates Stadium will leave him with a point to prove.

The Nations Cup also represents an ideal opportunity for Auba to remind potential suitors of his enduring goalscoring prowess, and perhaps a change of scene and environment will help him get back to his best.

However, counting against him is the fact he hasn't netted since late October, while Gabon's group -- they must face Ghana and Morocco -- leaves the Panthers with much to do to advance.

It's imperative that he and his compatriots start strongly against debutants Comoros in their tournament opener on January 10.

9. Ayoub El Kaabi

Top scorer at the African Nations Championship in 2018, El Kaabi duly made the leap to Morocco's World Cup squad and is now, belatedly, thriving in European football with Turkey's Hatayspor.

With Youssef En-Nesyri recently struggling with injury, El Kaabi has stepped into the team and forged an exciting partnership with Ryan Mmaee up top for Vahid Halilhodzic's side.

So confident is the Bosnian coach in his attacking options, that while En-Nesyri has returned to the squad for the Nations Cup, there is no place for Chelsea playmaker Hakim Ziyech, who's had a troubled relationship with the head coach.

Sevilla's En-Nesyri could yet usurp El Kaabi in the starting XI, but the latter starred during World Cup qualification -- top scoring with five goals -- and can spearhead Morocco's title charge.

8. Sebastien Haller

Ivory Coast striker Haller will have the pleasure of headlining arguably the most talented attacking unit at the Nations Cup, with the likes of Jeremie Boga, Max Gradel, Nicolas Pepe, Jean Seri, and maybe even Wilfried Zaha all set to be providing assists for the frontman.

His goalscoring record for the Elephants since making his debut in November 2020 isn't the most impressive -- three goals in eight outings so far -- but his hot club form cannot be ignored.

He's scored 12 in 17 for Ajax in the Eredivisie in 2021, while his Champions League goal haul of 10 in six group games made him the quickest player to hit double figures in the competition's history.

7. Sadio Mane

Ranked, again, as the best winger in world football in the ESPNFC Rank for 2021, Mane was described as "a great finisher who is able to convert his chances from most angles or positions."

Don't bet against him bringing those qualities to bear at the Nations Cup, where he'll be expected to take Senegal to their first ever continental title.

Despite the Teranga Lions' array of attacking options, Mane was their top scorer -- with five goals in nine outings -- in 2021, and he should enjoy himself against the Zimbabwe and Malawi defences during Senegal's favourable opening group.

6. Vincent Aboubakar

Scorer of a decisive goal in the 2017 final as Cameroon defeated Egypt, Aboubakar will be hoping to go the distance once again... this time on home soil.

He looks like the Indomitable Lions' best bet for the Golden Boot, having netted four times during qualification as the hosts took part in the programme.

He's Cameroon captain these days, so will feature prominently, and he's found his feet in Saudi football in December as the Nations Cup approaches.

The striker, once of Besiktas and FC Porto, has scored and assisted in his last two matches, taking his tally to six goals and three assists for Al-Nassr so far.

If the pressure of home expectation isn't too much for Cameroon, the 29-year-old can enjoy a long and fruitful run in the tournament.

5. Riyad Mahrez

The Manchester City wideman was below Mane in the ESPNFC Rank for the top wingers in the world game -- making the top 10 in ninth place -- but we reckon he's a better bet than his Liverpool rival for the Golden Boot.

The 30-year-old can be a devastating presence for Algeria when cutting in from the right on his left foot, and proved against Paris Saint-Germain in last year's Champions League semifinal that he can offer a goalscoring threat in the genuine blockbuster fixtures.

He sacrificed himself for the team on occasion during Les Fennecs' run to the title in 2019 -- although don't forget that outstanding semifinal winner against Nigeria -- and will be determined to leave his mark on a major tournament this time around.

Five Prem goals so far this term demonstrates that he's finding his range, and Mahrez can enjoy himself in Group E.

3. & 4. Islam Slimani & Baghdad Bounedjah

Beyond the aforementioned Mahrez, who will likely start on Algeria's right flank, Algeria are blessed with two superb centre-forwards in Slimani and Bounedjah, who are tied in our Golden Boot rankings - slash - predictions.

Counting against both of them is the presence of the other, with Fennecs fans split on who should lead the line for the North Africans heading into the tournament.

Bounedjah was the hero at the last Nations Cup, netting the winning goal in the final against Senegal, but he failed to impress in the recent Arab Cup success -- beyond a double against Sudan -- and hasn't been in the best goalscoring form recently.

Nonetheless, he still ended 2021 with seven goals for the national side, and could well hit a rich seam of form with AFCON matches coming thick and fast.

Slimani ends the calendar year as Algeria's top scorer with nine goals, and he also became the national team's all-time top goal-getter when he found the net in the 6-1 thrashing of Niger in October.

However, at 33 it remains to be seen if he can nail down a starting berth for Algeria during the tournament, while he's only netted once in Ligue 1 for Olympique Lyonnais so far this term.

2. Victor Osimhen

Until late December, it had looked as though Osimhen might miss out on the AFCON altogether after picking up a horrific facial injury in Napoli's 3-2 defeat by Internazionale last month.

However, he announced on social media on December 21 that he's recovered in time to be available for the showpiece, and was duly announced in the Nigeria squad revealed by interim head coach Augustine Eguavoen.

His inclusion immediately cements him among the favourites for the Golden Boot. He was the top scorer in qualifying -- joint with Patson Daka -- despite the fact that Nigeria often appeared to be playing within themselves under previous head coach Gernot Rohr.

There's no shortage of attacking options to support Osimhen, who may even be used in tandem with 2019 Golden Boot winner Odion Ighalo.

He'll enjoy facing Sudan and Guinea-Bissau in the group stage, although he will surely need to shake off some ring rust; Osimhen hasn't played since November 21, and last netted for Napoli a month before that.

1. Mohamed Salah

Set to come up against Nigeria and Osimhen in their tournament opener, the collision between the Super Eagles and Salah's Egypt on January 11 will be an early showdown between two Golden Boot favourites.

Salah is the most in-form African player in world football today, and indeed, few players in the world game have enjoyed a more lethal start to the season than the Liverpool superstar.

He equalled Jamie Vardy's record for either scoring or assisting in 15 consecutive Premier League matches until that run was halted against Tottenham Hotspur on December 19, and had a hand in a whopping 24 goals in his first 18 league games of the season.

He was ranked fourth among forwards in the ESPN FC Ranking of 2021 -- behind only Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi -- and will be desperate to inspire Egypt to go one further than their final defeat in 2017.