This weekend marks the start of the 2017 AFCON, with the final squads having been announced and players now preparing for the start of the tournament in Gabon.
Having last month looked into the highest rated players set to be on display, whoscored complied a list of ten players to keep tabs on.
Bertrand Traore (Burkina Faso)
Having performed way beyond expectations to finish second four years ago, Burkina Faso picked up just one point in 2015 and to improve on that they’ll rely on Traore’s influence. Despite being just 21, the Chelsea forward – currently on loan at Ajax – has already earned over 30 senior caps. The youngster’s goalscoring record at international level isn’t great but he enters the tournament off the back of a strong start to the season in Holland, scoring 4 goals and completing more dribbles per game than any other player (3.3).
Ramy Bensebaini (Algeria)
Despite only making his debut for Algeria in a warm up friendly ahead of the tournament, Ramy Bensebaini will hope to be in contention for a starting spot at centre-back alongside Aissa Mandi. After a summer switch, having enjoyed a decent loan spell with Montpellier, the 21-year old has proven a useful addition for a Rennes side that enjoyed a strong first half of the season. He’s played at left-back and centre midfield as well as his favoured centre-back position, winning 3.2 aerial duels per game and averaging an impressive 2.6 interceptions per game.
Marvelous Nakamba (Zimbabwe)
Aside from having one of the great names at the tournament, Zimbabwe’s Marvelous Nakamba has real potential. He’s only been capped a handful of times but at 22 looks likely to start at the heart of the midfield for one of the tournaments rank outsiders. He has been a first team regular for Eredivisie outfit Vitesse for some time, making the most tackles in the Dutch top-flight last season (125) and in arguably the toughest group at the tournament – alongside well-fancied Senegal and Algeria – he may have a lot of defensive work on his hands.
Tino Kadewere (Zimbabwe)
He may not be a first team regular for Allsvenskan outfit Djurgarrden but Tino Kadewere will be hoping to make a name for himself this month. Having only turned 21 last week, the youngster ended last season in Sweden’s top-flight in fine form and his versatility – playing in midfield as well as up front – will be an asset to Zimbabwe. With 3 goals and 4 assists in just 796 minutes of action, Kadewere had a direct hand in a goal every 114 minutes on average.
Keita Balde (Senegal)
Among the favourites to win the tournament, Senegal are certainly well equipped to mount a serious challenge for what would be their first ever AFCON triumph. They have an enviable attacking line-up, with Sadio Mane starring, but Keita Balde will hope to see plenty of action too. The Lazio youngster has begun to show greater consistency this season and has already scored more goals this time around (5) than he managed in 31 appearances last term. The 21-year old has averaged 2.8 successful dribbles per 90 minutes this season and his pace and physicality will be a real weapon.
Jordan Ikoko (DR Congo)
Having suffered a real blow with injury to star man Yannick Bolasie, DR Congo will have a tough task escaping from Group C and will need to be strong at the back to compete. Ikoko will hope to play his part, having been called up to the squad after previously representing France at all youth levels, on the back of a strong season with Guingamp. Antoine Kombouare’s men have been a real surprise package in Ligue 1 – currently occupying fifth spot – with 22-year old Ikoko claiming the right-back berth, averaging 2 interceptions and 1.7 tackles per game across 17 appearances.
Franck Kessie (Ivory Coast)
Believed to be one of the most in demand players in Gabon this month, Franck Kessie is thought to be on the wish list of a number of Europe’s top clubs, with Atalanta holding out for a huge fee. Their stance is understandable given the Ivorian’s acclimatisation to Serie A this season, with the 20-year old scoring six goals from 1.9 shots per game in Gasperini’s engine room. His all action displays are set to be on show this month as he is tipped to star for the pre-tournament favourites, effectively taking the place of the retired Yaya Toure, with whom he has already been compared.
Youssef Ait Bennasser (Morocco)
Morocco will be confident of progressing from Group C, with strong options in midfield in particular. 20-year old Bennasser may have to wait for his opportunity as a result but already has a handful of senior caps and has impressed for a Nancy side that has made the step back into Ligue 1 in solid fashion. The midfielder has started 12 of 15 league appearances, scored 3 goals – two from outside the box – with a solid 2.2 tackles per game helping to earn a solid rating of 6.95, which jumps to 7.18 when excluding sub appearances.
Ihlas Bebou (Togo)
He may only be playing in the German second division but 22-year old winger Bebou has been a standout performer in the league thus far, earning the highest rating for Fortuna Dusseldorf (7.30). He has four goals and three assists to his name and he may prove to be something of a surprise package this month for one of the underdogs at the tournament. The youngster has completed the most dribbles in the Bundesliga II so far this season (37) and could be a real threat for Togo, either from the start or as an impact sub.
Ebenezer Ofori (Ghana)
A regular for Swedish title hopefuls AIK, 21-year old Ofori has received his first call up to the Ghanaian national team and will hope to play a part for a youthful Black Stars side. Having played in both full-back positions and out wide when first breaking into his club side, the youngster has now made a starting berth at the heart of the midfield his own and was even named Allsvenskan midfielder of the year in 2015. Solid in terms of breaking up play and with the ball at his feet, Ofori completed 88.1% of his passes last season while chipping in with 3 goals and 4 assists from the middle of the park.