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Top 10 Players Who Could Light Up the Nations Cup

The Africa Cup of Nations is underway and like every other major tournament, it comes with thrills and spills.  As hosts Gabon look to pull off a wow factor, the continent’s star big boys will take centre-stage as they attempt to remind Africa and the world of their talent. But don’t get shocked when these star-studded names are upstaged by emerging talent. Easily dismissed and overlooked, the Gabon finals offers just about the right platform for up-and-coming starlets to show what they’re all about.

Below is a compiled list of top-ten youngsters between the ages of 18 and 23, who could get you jumping off your seats.

Mohammad Shaban/Uganda: Not much is known of The Uganda Cranes not forgetting the tough group they have in Ghana, Egypt and Mali, and it is of little surprise they are written off. They’ve had a tremendous 2015 while 2016 hasn’t yielded much, managing only two wins in fourteen games.

But It must be said, they do have a lethal weapon in first-choice forward Mohammad Shaban. He got started in the shock win over Slovakia but we could be seeing more of him against runners-up Ghana.

Captain of Onduparaka FC, Mohammad netted a total 30 goals last season (16 in the FUFA Big League, 4 in the Regional League, 7 in the Ugandan Cup and 3 in the Azam Ugandan Premier League). No doubt he will be the man the Cranes will be relying on, to win goals.

Firmin Mubele Ndombe/Congo: Trapped in a team of star names – among them being Mbokani, Mpoku, Mulumbu, Tisserand and Mbemba – Ndombe, many expect, won’t have it easy to get a starting berth when the Afcon games begin.  But he might turn out to be the squad’s because sometimes as it may be, the big boys are also known to falter. This could be the best moment for the 2015 Caf home-based African player winner. The 22-year-old is a highly possible challenge for defenders.

Samuel Tetteh/Ghana:

A look at Tetteh in theory, one wonders how Avram Grant added him in his finalise 23-man roster. But given a chance, we will see why.  The 20-year-old is fighting for a place with established names like the Ayew brothers, Gyan, Atsu and Acheampong. Plying his trade in the Austrian second tier, Tetteh is the symbol that status doesn’t count when it gets to the matters about the round object.

Grant dropped the highest scoring Ghanaian footballer, Raphael Dwamena, to make room for Samuel. This decision inevitably created buzz but for a man dubbed as the answer to Ghana’s longing for a Ronaldo in the future, you can expect the unexpected. And this Afcon will be the perfect place for Tetteh to shine.

Balde Diao Keita/Senegal: Senegal has one of the best attacks in the Gabon finals and one such potent is Balde Diao Keita. A product of Barcelona’s famous academy, Senegal shook heaven and earth to get him playing for them. Eventually, they had their man. At 21, coalesced with pressure to play by impatient Taranga Lions fans, Keita was expected to struggle a little but the Lazio man showed he needed none of that, going to the extent of scoring on his international debut. Already, he’s on two goals in three games for the Taranga Lions missing out netting only in the controversial 2-1 defeat to South Africa. Manchester United are circling around him.

Fans back home expect nothing but this Afcon trophy with Sadio Mane added to the list, is one of the reasons for increased expectations.

A symbol of class, Keita is one of the expected big hits although it is his first African tournament.

Nicolas Pepe/Ivory Coast: The Elephants are yet to get their replacement for Drogba, Wilfred Bony is a misfiring cannon and there is no Gervinho. The champions face yet their biggest challenge in front of goal and a certain 21-year-old, Nicolas Pepe, is the likely answer to their cries. His goal ratio of two in 18 Ligue One games doesn’t tip the balance in his favour but the France-born attacker could be a super-sub star. He gave a good account of himself in the friendly against Sweden.

Tinotenda Kadewere/Zimbabwe: Plucked from a high school football tournament in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, Kadewere given the moniker Tino, is a striker-cum-midfielder. One of a number of invited foreign-based players summoned by the Southern African nation, Tino is the youngest in the Warriors’ strike force. Rule him out to your peril. He doesn’t rake up goals but does create loopholes in opposition’s defence. Swedish premier League side Djurgardens know much about his runs. Diminutively built, Tino can be a big weapon in creating chances.

Ismaila Sarr/Senegal: He has got a workload on his shoulders but don’t be surprised when Ismaila Sarr carries it about with relative ease. Turning professional only six months ago from Senegal’s second tier side Generation Foot, how the 18-year-old gaffed Aliou Cisse’s thinking, made many go berserk.

He has started 10 of the 18 games he featured in for French Ligue one side, Metz. Ismaila won’t be feeling out of place in his first senior international competition already used to the pressure while with Taranga Lions U-23.

Lassana Coulibally/Mali: No goals yet in the on-going league campaign because Lassana Coulibally is a midfielder. Mali have their stars to thank for with the 20-year-old in their fold and the ex- youth international, is an integral in the West African nation’s Afcon run.

Clocking 1,219 minutes in a total 18 games for Bastia, he can sure be explosive for Mali and Gabon is the presented occasion for such a crusade.

Youssef Ait Bennasser/Morocco: This budding talent has been key in Nancy’s resurgent starting 12 of the club’s 15 games so far, a confirmation of his invaluableness for the French outfit. Gaffer Renard Havre and Morocco will be the ones benefitting should Youssef Ait Bennasser replicate his club form with the Lions of the Atlas. Already, he has gotten down to business marking the middle of the park in Morocco’s friendly defeat to Finland and DR Congo will be working a sweat when they come against Morocco with Bennasser, an unleashed commander in the middle.

Ramadan Sobhi/Egypt: Down the pecking order in Stoke City’s EPL run so far but Ramadan Sobhi can use the Afcon to show Stoke manager, Hughes, just what he is missing. The 19-year-old former Al Ahly goal-poacher, will be the Pharaohs go-to guy along with much-experienced duo Gomaa and Koka.


Featured Photo: Nicolas Pepe/Ivory Coast. Courtesy of image d’illustration

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