Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughFive players to watch at the AFCON - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Five players to watch at the AFCON - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Five players to watch at the AFCON

Ah the return of international tournament football can only mean one thing – matches in the mid afternoon, much like the European Championship or the World. Except the African Cup of Nations is, unsurprisingly, held in Africa.

A number of Premier League stars are taking part, meaning the likes of Manchester City, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur are significantly weakened following the departures of the Toure brother’s, Cheick Tiote and Emmanuel Adebayor, respectively.

Either way, the talent emanating from the competition would surely arouse scouts from across the world of football, with a number of stars waiting in the wings to be snapped up by those in Europe. With that in mind, and in no particular order, the five players to watch during the AFCON.

Didier Drogba – Ivory Coast

Perhaps the most recognisable footballer at the competition, it’s no surprise to see the former Chelsea front-man head the list. Drogba may be universally known in the game, but still boasts an impressive list of admirers following his exploits during his final year with the Blues.

Currently plying his trade with Shanghai Shenhua in China, there have been reports that the Ivory Coast star has been looked to end his contract with the club sooner rather than later due to unpaid fees following his high profile switch from the Premier League.

Should ‘The Droggernaut’ enjoy a successful tournament, there would undoubtedly be no shortage of suitors from Europe keen to snap him up, especially if he is available on a free. Juventus in particular are believed to be interested on a short-term deal after confirming they won’t be signing Fernando Llorente until his contract expires in the summer.

Younes Belhanda – Morocco

A key member in Montpellier’s title winning season last year, much of Morocco’s creative impetus will be placed on the shoulders of the 22-year-old after head coach Eric Gerets opted against calling upon Queen’s Park Rangers schemer Adel Taarabt for the competition.

Belhanda has already been attracting interest across Europe following his scintillating displays for the Ligue Un outfit over the past 18 months and with La Paillade owner Louis Nicollin – perhaps the most enigmatic man in football – confirming that the player could leave in January, there have understandably been no shortage of suitors.

Fenerbache were thought to have come close to snaring the youngster this month, only for a deal to fall through, while Spurs have also been credited with an interest. Either way, a series of impressive performance between now and next week’s deadline could well drive up his asking price before the close of the transfer window.

Christian Atsu Twasam – Ghana

Despite being just the tentative age of 21-years-old, Atsu has already made 10 appearances for Ghana since his international debut last year, netting twice. Despite failing to hit the back of the target during the 2-2 draw with DR Congo earlier this week, the youngster impressed head coach James Kwesi Appiah and is expected to retain his place on the left wing throughout their participation in the AFCON.

Currently plying his trade with Portuguese outfit FC Porto, Atsu spent last season on loan with Rio Ave in a bid to garner further first-team experience and amassed 27 appearances in the process, netting six as the club retained their place in the Primeira Liga.

While he’s failed to break into the Porto first team this season, with James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez ahead of him in the pecking order, an impressive outing for Ghana at the tournament could convince head coach Vitor Pereira to hand him further opportunities in the starting XI.

Wilfried Bony – Ivory Coast

While Drogba, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou are ahead of Bony in the pecking order for Les Elephants, the Vitesse Arnham youngster is being forced to wait for his time to showcase his capabilities to the watching world.

Emerging as a second half substitute during the 2-1 win over Togo on Tuesday, the 24-year-old was hardly going to set the world alight during his 15 minute cameo appearance. However, after netting 30 times in 51 appearances for the Eredivisie side following his arrival in 2011, a number of teams have already been credited with an interest in Bony.

Should the Ivory Coast secure safe passage to the next round of the competition prior to the last game of the group stages, fans will be able to see what all the fuss is about in the Vitesse starman, who bears similar striking capabilities to compatriot Seydou Doumbia.

Cheick Diabate – Mali

The Mali international is an absolute monster of a striker. Standing at 6ft 4in, Diabate has been utilised as the spearhead of the attacking trident under Patrice Carteron, with Cheick Fantamady Diarra and Sigamary Diarra flanking either side of the front-man.

With Bordeaux at present, the 24-year-old is expected to make his mark on the opposition backline, especially if Les Aigles are expected to qualify for the next round of the AFCON. His goalscoring record for Les Girondins may not be of the highest standard, but his ability to bring others into play renders him a vital cog Jean-Louis Triaud’s squad.

Currently standing on 11 goals in 24 games for Mali, Diabate will be hoping to add to his impressive tally during the competition, especially if he is to attract the interest of potential suitors in Europe.