Five players to watch at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations

There are star players we know plenty about but there are others worth keeping an eye on

BY Raf Diallo 14:29 Tuesday 10 January 2017, 14:29 10 Jan 2017

Kalidou Koulibaly, Napoli. Picture by Nick Potts EMPICS Sport

Once the Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on January 14th, the likes of Sadio Mane, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Riyad Mahrez will be well known to most observers at this stage.

But from the 2016 teams, there are plenty of other players to cast more than a glance at in Gabon.

Kalidou Koulibaly

A centre back for Napoli, the 25 year old Senegal defender, who made his first international steps at underage level for France, has been highly rated in recent times.

While transfer prices in football have ballooned to disproportionate levels, if Chelsea are purportedly offering £58 million for a player's signature then they must have some qualities to say the least.

The price tag in question was publicised by Napoli's owner and his words - if taken at face value - suggest that Koulibaly was the first choice centre back target for Antonio Conte before Chelsea turned to David Luiz.

After switching international allegiance from France to his parents country of origin in 2015, he is now into double figures for caps for Senegal.

At 1 metre 92, he's certainly got physical presence at the back.

Franck Kessié

Another player shining in Serie A, the Ivory Coast midfielder is also being linked with bids from Premier League clubs.

The 20 year old has been part of an Atalanta team that has been the surprise package of the season in Italy and like Koulibaly it's Chelsea that has been talked about.

According to The Guardian, a bid of €25 million was submitted and subsequently rejected.

Kessié has made 15 league appearances for Atalanta this season and scored six goals from midfield.

Given that Yaya Toure retired after Ivory Coast won the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations after a 100 cap international career, Kessié represents the potential future for the Elephants.

Stoke City's Ramadan Sobhi warming up prior to the Premier League match at the Bet365 Stadium, Stoke.  Picture by Mike Egerton PA Wire/PA Images

Vincent Aboubakar

Over the years, Cameroon has been blessed with excellent strikers, from Roger Milla to Francois Omam-Biyik and Patrick M'Boma to Samuel Eto'o.

The Indomitable Lions aren't quite as indomitable as they have been in the past, with their fourth and last Cup of Nations win coming all the way back in 2002.

Their highest goalscorer at present is Vincent Aboubakar.

He first appeared for his country at the 2010 World Cup aged just 18, while the world class Eto'o was still in situ.

Since then, the 24 year old has scored 14 international goals which already puts him into the Top 10 of all time for his country.

While Aboubakar is currently on loan at Turkish champions Besiktas, his goals record in Portugal for FC Porto last season was pretty good with 18 in all competitions.

Ramadan Sobhi

Premier League viewers will already have seen a glimpse of the Egypt winger who signed for Stoke City during the summer.

The 19 year old joined the Potters from Al Ahly in his homeland for just shy of €6 million.

Manager Mark Hughes was certainly excited by his potential: "It may take him a while to understand the Premier League because it does for creative players, but he has good experience for somebody who is so young.

"There is a lot of interest in him in his home country as well and he's had to deal with that for a couple of years so that shows he has maturity.

"He’ll need that because the Premier League is a difficult league, but I’ve spoken to him and spent time with him and he seems a very mature young man."

Sobhi already has more than 10 caps for his country and has been afforded some game time for Stoke, making a couple of starts and a few appearances off the bench. One for the future at club level but one for the here and now already for Egypt.

Yacine Brahimi

The Algeria vice captain has been starring at club for FC Porto since arriving in Portugal in 2014.

A winner of the BBC African Footballer of the Year in 2014, the 26 year old was linked with Everton in the summer after a season which saw him score nine goals and provide 10 assists in the Primeira Liga, Europa League, Portuguese Cup and Champions League. 

His dribbling is his most noted asset and in fact he attempted the most dribbles per match in last season's Champions League with seven.

At international level for Algeria, he was part of the squad that reached the first knockout round of the 2014 World Cup - scoring once against South Korea in the group stage - and also featured at the last two Cup of Nations tournaments. 

The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations: A group by group guide to the challengers

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