Africa's stars to light up Afcon 2013
18 October 2012
Some of the continent's biggest football stars will be on show when South Africa hosts the 2013 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) from 19 January to 10 February.
The 16 participating teams have yet to finalise their squads, but assuming the big names get chosen to represent their countries, here's a quick glance at some of players who could be lighting up South Africa's stadiums in a few months' time.
Tournament favourites Côte d'Ivoire, appropriately, boast more star names than any other team. The Ivorians are ranked 16th in the world and number one in Africa. They are also the most experienced and oldest team in the finals.
Star striker Didier Drogba, the man of the match in Chelsea's victory over Bayern Munich in the 2012 Uefa Champions Legaue final, remains a top class marksman at the age of 34. Now with Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua, Drogba will spearhead the Elephants' title challenge along with midfielder Yaya Toure.
Yaya, the 29-year-old younger brother of defender Kolo Toure, was instrumental in Manchester City's English Premier League title in 2011/12. He controls the midfield superbly and is also a threat coming forward.
Like the Toure brothers at Manchester City, forward Gervinho also has a global profile because he plays for a top English club, in this case Arsenal, where Kolo Toure played from 2002 to 2009. He is nowhere near as prolific as Drogba, but is a hard worker on attack.
Other names familiar to football followers will be Emmanuel Eboué, Didier Zokora, and Siaka Tiéné.
On the negative side for Côte d'Ivoire, some believe that the 2013 continental final could be the last chance for an ageing current crop of players to add to the country's only African Nations Cup title, won 20 years ago in Senegal after an incredible penalty shootout, which the Elephants won 11-10 over Ghana after neither team had scored in regulation time.
The only other striker with as high a profile as Drogba will be Togo's Emmanuel Adebayor. He is currently with Tottenham Hotspur, but has played for a string of top clubs, including Real Madrid, Manchester City, Arsenal, Monaco and Metz.
The Togolese will lean on Adebayor heavily for inspiration and goals because - unlike Côte d'Ivoire, whose 2012 record includes 10 wins, three draws and only one loss on penalties to Zambia in the final of the Cup of Nations - Togo's form has been very spotty: two wins, two draws and three losses.
Algeria is ranked number two in Africa and 24th in the world. In their case, it's the established stars - defender Antar Yahia, midfielder Karim Ziani and Nadir Belhadj - that lend stability and class to their challenge.
Striker El Arbi Hillel Soudani bears watching. In 108 matches for Algerian club ASO Chlef, he scored 48 times before moving to Portugal's Vitória Guimarães. While his scoring rate is lower in Portugal, he has netted six times in eight appearances for the Desert Warriors.
Like Algeria, Mali is not one of the top seeds for Afcon 2013, but at 27th in the Fifa world rankings and third in Africa they will be out to win the African Cup of Nations for a first time.
The biggest name in their team is Seydou Keita, who plays for Chinese Super League club Dalian Aerbin. His other clubs include Marseille, Lorient and Lens in France, and Sevilla and Barcelona in Spain. He brings experience to the midfield and a decent goal scoring record too.
Ghana, one of the top seeds for Afcon 2013, was Africa's best performing team at the 2010 Fifa World Cup, narrowly missing out on the semi-finals after a controversial loss to Uruguay.
They're four-time African Cup of Nations champions, but the last of those titles came way back in 1982. More recently, they placed fourth in Afcon 2012 and were runners-up in 2010.
The Black Stars have a young squad that is only going to get better. Asamoah Gyan is one of their better known players. It was he who missed the penalty that could have taken them into the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup, but that should not detract from his influence on the team. He is Ghana's current highest international goal scorer.
Midfielder Sulley Muntari is an experienced campaigner and can list both AC and Inter Milan among the clubs he has played for. One does not play for the Italian giants without being a player of class.
Defending champions Zambia contain fewer big name stars than many of the other leading teams, but that's what they're about: "team". A good number of their players will be familiar to South African football fans as they ply or have plied their trade in the country's Premier Soccer League.
Striker Christopher Katongo was a star with Jomo Cosmos and the PSL's top scorer before he headed to Danish club Brøndby. He has since played in Germany, Greece and China, where he now represents Henan Jianye.
Another striker familiar to South Africans is Collins Mbesuma. He has played for five South African clubs and his first stint, with Kaizer Chiefs, was particularly memorable as he scored at close to a goal a game to win the 2004/05 PSL Player of the Season award.
Two-time champions Nigeria placed third in the 2010 Cup of Nations and have some big names in their line-up, but they have been inconsistent and not always played up to their potential in recent times.
Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, a top performer in the 2010 Fifa World Cup, brings experience at the back, as does Joseph Yobo. In the midfield, Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel lends stability to the midfield, while up front Ikechukwu Uche and Yakubu Aiyegbeni are experienced goal scoring threats.
If the Super Eagles play with discipline and consistency, they have the ability to go a long way.
Look out for 28-year-old striker Issam Jemâa in the Tunisian team. His international record is an impressive one, with 32 goals to his name. Interestingly, his scoring rate at international level exceeds his club exploits by some distance.
Angola's line-up will include Manucho, who plys his trade for Turkish club Manisaspor. He is a proven goal scorer on the international stage and has played club football in Angola, England, Greece, Turkey and Spain.
Morocco's leading light is Marouane Chamakh of English Premier League club Arsenal. Before joining the Gunners in 2010, he enjoyed success with Bordeaux in France, netting 56 times in 230 appearances for the team.
Probably the most recognisable of South Africa's players will be Kaizer Chiefs' left-footed midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala. He is best remembered for scoring the opening goal of the 2010 Fifa World Cup with a scorching shot past Mexican goalkeeper Oscar Perez.
Bafana Bafana, though, will be looking for a goal scorer to emerge and become a regular contributor in the African Cup of Nations, as South Africa's all-time top goal scorer, Benni McCarthy, once did.
It is on the stage of major events that previously undiscovered stars emerge. It should be no different in Afcon 2013.
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