The 14th January 2017 mark it in your calendar, for that is the opening day of African Cup Of Nations matches. The best that Africa has to offer will showcase their talents for a chance of being crowned the footballing kings of the continent.
The sixteen countries that did made it will travel to the host country Gabon to participate in a three week long tournament, and next year is a special one as it marks the 60th anniversary of the African showpiece. The competition consists of four groups made up of four teams (as shown below).
Group A Group B Group C Group D
Gabon Algeria Ivory Coast Ghana
Burkina Faso Tunisia DR Congo Mali
Cameroon Senegal Morocco Egypt
Guinea-Bissau Zimbabwe Togo Uganda
A total of four venues shall be used at the tournament, the countries capital Libreville, Franceville, Oyem and Port Gentil.
Name: Stade d’Angondje
Host matches: 4 (including the final)
Name: Stade de Franceville
Host matches: 8 (including one semi-final )
Name: Stade d’Oyem
Host matches: 7 (including one quarter final)
Name: Stade de Port-Gentil
Host matches: 8 (including one quarter final and one Third Place Playoff)
Key players to watch out for
Name: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Club: Borussia Dortmund
International stats:52 appearances and 21 goals
The host country Gabon may have a team mostly made up of relatively unknown players on the world scene, but in Aubameyang they boast one of the more lethal forwards participating in the African Cup Of Nations. Blessed with searing pace and a selfish desire for goals the 27 year old has given plenty of defenders in the Bundesliga nightmares with his club Dortmund (he has 70 goals in 110 appearances for Dortmund) and this tournament will be no different.
Gabon will rely on him heavily to get them out of the group and into the latter stages and hopefully to a unexpected glory. If he hits the ground running from the start and Gabon take heart from the home crowd roaring them on, they are possible underdogs to go the distance and cause a few major upsets at the same time.
Name: Riyad Mahrez
Club: Leicester City
International stats: 27 appearances and 6 goals
Leicester City were the talk of football last season after their surprising capture of the Premier League title. Jamie Vardy got a lot of credit and rightly so for the number of goals he scored but Riyad Mahrez was equally as important to the teams success, chipping in with goals and assists from the right wing. Not only does the Algerian have pace in his arsenal but tricky feet and enough skills to confuse and twist inside out the most experienced defender.
His all around technique is flawless whether it’s playing the perfectly weighted pass to put through on goal his teammates or cutting in from the right and rifling in a left footed screamer.
Name: Sadio Mane
International stats: 38 appearances and 10 goals
The Liverpool winger has enjoyed a fine start to his career in the North West of England. Having moved from Southampton to Liverpool in the Summer the Senegalese player has seven goals and four assists for the Merseyside club. Not only is Mane a pacy customer to contend with but he has an added physicality to his game to match his obvious eye for goal. Whether he is deployed on the right or up front as a second striker Mane will be a dangerous opponent and a great weapon for ‘Les Lions de la Teranga’ (Lions of Teranga).
Name: Hakim Ziyech
International stats: 9 appearances and 5 goals
Hakim Ziyech received his first senior Moroccan cap in October of last year, having turned down the chance to play for The Netherlands, the country of his birth. Ziyech is already the central hub of creativity in the current Morocco national setup. Playing in his accustomed attacking midfield role Ziyech has an eye for a pass, good technique and a dangerous free kick ability. Alongside other players such as Younes Belhanda and Sofiane Boufal the Moroccans on paper should have no trouble creating chances, whether they can finish them remains to be seen in the next January.
Name: Franck Kessie
International Stats:10 appearances
Franck Kessie is the next big thing to come out of Ivory Coast in terms of football, whether the 20 year old will be as global a superstar as past Ivorian greats Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure is a question for the future, but as of now there’s no doubting his huge potential. Currently he plies his trade in Italian top division Serie A with Atalanta. The midfielder is a powerful presence in the heart of the midfield whether he pulls on a Atalanta or Ivory Coast jersey makes no difference. His country were quick to notice his talent and handed him his first national call up and cap at the age of 17.
Now at the age of 19 and in his first season playing top flight Italian football everyone else has been quick to follow suit. The Ivorian has impressed in his debut season for Atalanta scoring six goals in all competitions, helping his team to the sixth place they currently hold in the table.
None of his exerts this season have gone unnoticed, his performances this season have attracted several European giants, such as Manchester United, Juventus, Chelsea and Arsenal. Atalanta consequently have placed a £25 million price tag on their prized asset.The upcoming AFCON represents a chance for Kessie to showcase his talents to a wider audience, which if he takes with both hands will increase his player stock, up his transfer value and benefit Ivory Coast during the tournament.