With 25 Roshn Saudi League players called up to the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, the Saudi top-flight was always going to have a major impact on the tournament in Cote d’Ivoire.
Yet, with plenty of surprise results in the round of 16, we’re down to the final four RSL representatives still in with a chance of continental glory: Cote d’Ivoire trio Franck Kessie, Seko Fofana and Ghislain Konan, and Guinea’s Francois Kamano.
Here’s how the last 16 played out for those plying their club trade in the Kingdom.
Kessie keeps his cool in battle of RSL top talents
Seven RSL superstars started in a heavyweight encounter between defending champions Senegal and hosts Cote d’Ivoire in Yamoussoukro. Senegal made the perfect start when Al Shabab forward Habib Diallo struck four minutes into the contest, while Al Nassr striker Sadio Mane came close to seeing red in the contest.
However, after waves of pressure, the home side won a late penalty. Al Ahli midfielder Franck Kessie stepped up and slotted the ball home, much to the relief of the partisan crowd.
In a tense contest, the tie inevitably went to penalties. Al Hilal defender Kalidou Koulibaly and Mane kept their composure only for teammate Moussa Niakhate to lose his. It all came down to Kessie once more, and the Al Ahli man made no mistake to seal a 5-4 shootout win for The Elephants.
N'Koudou can't help fire Cameroon into quarter-finals
Cameroon fell to a 2-0 defeat to local rivals Nigeria thanks to a brace from Ademola Lookman. Damac star Georges-Kevin N’Koudou played the full 90 minutes and picked up a yellow card while compatriot Karl Toko Ekambi was taken off deep into second-half stoppage time.
Toko Ekambi will now turn his attention to his new club Al Ettifaq, after sealing a move to the Dammam-based club on transfer deadline day.
Kamano celebrates last-gasp win against Equatorial Guinea
Abha striker Francois Kamano came off the bench for Guinea in the second half as they reached the quarter-finals in the most dramatic of fashions. A Mohamed Bayo goal eight minutes into injury-time sealed the 1-0 win, the National Elephants just about coming through against the ten men of Equatorial Guinea.
Hejazi's Egypt exit in epic penalty shootout
Al Ittihad defender Ahmed Hegazi played all 120 minutes as seven-time winners Egypt crashed out in the round of 16, losing on penalties to DR Congo. The contest went the distance at the Stade de San Pedro, with DR Congo keeper Lionel Mpasi proving just as proficient with his feet as his hands - he slotted away the winner to seal an 8-7 victory for Les Leopards.
Bono and Saiss outdone by wily South Africa
Morocco's RSL pair, Al Shabab's Romain Saiss and Al Hilal keeper Bono, could not help the Atlas Lions reach the final eight after a disappointing 2-0 defeat to South Africa.
Morocco's elimination leave Kessie, Fofana, Konan and Kamano to fly the flag for the RSL. Now, for the vast majority of their RSL colleagues, attention turns to the second half of the 2023-24 campaign, which starts on February 15.