| By Anayo Ezugwu |
THE African Cup of Nations starts January 19, and below is the name of players to scintillate soccer fans when the tournament begins in South Africa.
Didier Drogba (Cote d’Ivoire)
Didier Drogba, the Cote d’Ivoire captain and Shanghi Shenhua striker, is among the most experienced and oldest players that would be attending the African Cup of Nations. He is expected to help his team to reach the final of the tournament like he did in 2012 championship. The former Chelsea striker played a vital role in Chelsea’s first victory at the UEFA Champions League in Munich last year. He is leading his team, which is also one of the tournament’s favourites to win the trophy this year. His team boasts of more star than any other team in the competition. Drogba remains a top class striker to watch in the championship despite age and will spearhead the Elephants’ title challenge.
Yaya Toure (Cote d’Ivoire)
The African reigning player of the year and Manchester City midfielder, helped his country reach the African Cup of Nations final last year and was one of the key footballers responsible for Roberto Mancini’s side winning the Barclays Premier League title in 2011/2012 season.
Although Toure has not quite been able to replicate his form this season, his incredible power and tenacity helped City dominate games last season. He grabbed six goals in the top flight including two in the penultimate match against Newcastle which gave them a fighting chance of snatching the title from rivals Manchester United, on the final day.
Toure joined Senegalese forward El-Hadji Diouf on two victories, although it is unlikely he will be able to eclipse Cameroonian ex-Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o, who won the title four times.
Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo)
Emmanuel Adebayor. Togo’s captain and Tottenham Hotspur striker will be leading his country to the championship. His experiences with top clubs like Real Madrid, Manchester City, Arsenal, Monaco and now Tottenham, would help his team to lean heavily on him for inspiration and goals.
He has settled the differences between him and the coach of the national team and his club has given him permission to represent his nation in South Africa.
Youssef Msakni (Tunisia)
The Tunisian 21-year-old winger has received many plaudit with his performances for the national team since his debut in 2010. He has played 28 times for his nation scoring two goals in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations tournament. Msakni plays in the Tunisian League with current champions, Esperance.
He is certainly one of Tunisia’s brightest stars and has been linked to some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including Arsenal. The national team employs Msakni as an attacking midfielder and he will be targeting the 2013 tournament as an opportunity to impress once again with his pace and offensive ability. He has often been heralded as Tunisia’s next big player and many are waiting for his true potential to shine in South Africa.
Ryan Mendes (Cape Verde Islands)
Ryan Mendes is among players leading Cape Verde Islands to their first Africa Cup of Nations in their history. Little is known about the majority of the country’s players, but Mendes is certainly a footballer who deserves respect. The 22-year-old winger plies his trade at Lille in French Ligue 1, where he is considered one of the upcoming stars for the club. He was a vital contributor to Cape Verde’s shock qualification in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. Mendes is known for his side pace in attack and is naturally a creative player.
He made his international debut at the age of 20 and took part in both the 2012 and 2013 Africa Cup of Nations’ qualifiers. He not only provides vital assistance for his teammates, Mendes has scored vital goals for his side. His greatest asset is his ability to create goal scoring opportunities for a Cape Verde side which will be desperate to create an impact as a debutant in the continental tournament.
Abdelaziz Barrada (Morroco)
The Morrocan central midfielder plays for Getafe in Spanish La Liga and had an impressive first season with the club, playing 38 games and scoring seven goals. Barrada not only offers Morroco control in the midfield, he is also a big threat in the opponent’s 18-meter box and can create chances as well as score vital goals. His brilliant performance which many still remember was against Real Madrid last season. The midfielder was able to terrorise some of the best players in the world with his skills.
He is a regular for Getafe and is one of Morroco’s most promising talents. He scored his first goal for the national side this year, a winner against Mozambique in the 2013 Afcon qualification campaign.
With Morocco set to face the hosts South Africa, Cape Verde Islands and Angola, Barrada will be one of the threats in the midfield line-up of the talented Lions.
Dieumerci Mbokani (Congo DR)
The Anderlecht centre-forward is Congo DR’s danger-man for the 2013 Afcon and the striker has the potential to be a destructive force in attack. He is a player who can hold up the play and score with a strong right boot. He has not always been a main feature in the national side until now, after scoring three goals in their 2013 Afcon qualification campaign.
The 26-year-old has a rich experience playing in Europe where he has had previous tenures with VFL Wolfsburg, Monaco and Standard Liege. Last season, he was particularly deadly, scoring 14 goals in 26 appearances for Anderlecht.
And this scoring form has not been lost, as the striker has found the back of the net six times in only eight starts for the Belgian club this season. He will hope to carry his form into the Afcon and Congo DR will certainly be relying on his prowess in front of goal.
John Obi Mikel (Nigeria)
John Obi Mikel, Nigerian and Chelsea FC midfielder, is another player to watch in South Africa. Mikel, who was named Nigeria’s best footballer of the year 2012 and Goal.com Nigerian footballer of 2012, lends stability to the Nigerian midfield and has promised to make up for his absence in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
There had been growing concern over his fitness following the injury he received playing for his club and missing out of Chelsea Squad in three successive matches. But the medical team of the Super Eagles in Faro, Portugal, has confirmed him fit for the competition. His presence in the Eagles camp is a boost to the team.
Mikel won the UEFA Champions League as well as the English FA Cup with Chelsea last year. He was very impressive in key matches that earned him two winners’ medals with his club and Nigeria’s qualification for the 2013 Afcon in South Africa.
Victor Moses (Nigeria)
Victor Moses, Nigeria’s and Chelsea FC striker, appears primed and ready to take the Afcon by storm. After making his Nigeria debut in February, Moses has emerged as a crucial component in Super Eagles fluid attacking trident.
This was more evident in Nigeria’s entertaining 6-1 romp against Liberia, the match that sealed their Afcon qualification. Whilst goals were shared across the team, Moses proved what a threat he could be with his blistering pace, direct running, and impulsive finishing. He even demonstrated what a threat he can be in the air, with a deft header from a John Obi Mikel cross to register Nigeria’s sixth goal of the night.
Moses has still shown this season why the West London club was so keen to poach him from Wigan. Some argue that Moses may be overrated by the English media, but performances such as that against United in the Capital One Cup suggest that the player has the talent to confirm his rating.
Adane Girma (Ethiopia)
The Ethiopian defensive midfielder plies his trade in the Ethiopian Premier League. His role in his national side has been vital. He scored two of the most important goals in Ethiopia’s qualification campaign against Sudan. He plays a commanding role in the midfield but can also make runs into the box and create scoring opportunities.
Girma plays for Saint George SA in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia. His team has dominated the Ethipoian Premier league with 22 titles.
Christopher Katongo (Zambia)
Christopher Katongo, Zambia’s captain and BBC African footballer of the year 2012, is familiar with South African football fans as he had plied his trade in the country’s Premier Soccer League.
Katongo was a striker with Jomo Cosmos and the PSL’s top scorer before he headed to the Danish club, Brondby. He has since played in Germany, Greece and China, where he now plays for Henan Jianye. He was an integral part of the Zambia team that won the Afcon last year.
— Jan. 21, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT