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You all know the superstars – but who are the rising stars playing in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon? Jonathan Fadugba – Editor of Just-Football.com (and chief correspondent for FFT.com's United States of Africa) – lists five likely lads looking to impress on the big stage.
Given the variety of teams to have qualified for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, there's sure to be a horde of European scouts running the rule over players in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew admitted the club would be sending scouts to “monitor” the competition in search of another Papiss Demba Cisse, while Bundesliga club Hoffenheim's scout Lutz Pfannenstiel described it as the “perfect platform,” a “responsibility for every proper club in Europe.”
But who will these scouts be looking at? Here are five players who could star at ACoN 2012 given the opportunity.
Mehdi Benatia (Morocco and Udinese)
I highlighted Benatia last June in my all-star African team of 2010/2011 and since then the Moroccan international's influence on club side Udinese has continued to grow. Nominated for the Best Defender in Italy award in his debut Serie A season – no small achievement in a league that knows a good defender when it sees one – Benatia is a key component of a miserly Udinese defence that has conceded fewer league goals than any other team bar Juventus. Reads the game exceptionally well and is useful in possession.Watch him vs Tunisia, Mon 23rd, 7pm GMT; vs Gabon, Fri 27th, 7pm; vs Niger, Tue 31st, 6pm
Seydou Doumbia (Ivory Coast and CSKA Moscow)
A nomadic career to date has seen the Ivorian striker travel in the last four years from Japan to Switzerland to Russia, where he plays for CSKA Moscow. Wherever he lays his hat, goals usually follow. Pacy, powerful and prolific, the 24-year-old scored 50 goals in 65 games for Young Boys Bern before heading to Russia and hitting another 24 goals in 32 games in the Russian Premier League.
He has been named Player of the Year in both countries and has five goals so far in this season's Champions League. He could add a whole new dimension to Ivory Coast's frontline if he can find playing time in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea – he came on in the 89th minute of the opening win over Sudan. Watch him vs Burkina Faso, Thu 26th, 7pm; vs Angola, Mon 30th, 6pm
Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso and Rennes)
Rennes coach Frederic Antonetti raves about Pitroipa, saying that if the 25-year-old could add consistency to his game he would be one of the most dangerous players in Europe. It's easy to see why Antonetti is so enthused. A speedy, nimble winger who can occupy both left and right flank, often switching positions at regular intervals during games for Rennes, Pitroipa is a player with potential star quality.
Described as the 'Burkinabe Cristiano Ronaldo', a tag he doesn't appear to particularly like, Pitroipa does need to become more reliable if he is to go on and succeed at the highest level. But the basic ingredients are there with his array of tricks, dazzlingly quick feet and ability to beat a man effortlessly.
He started ACoN 2012 in typical style in Burkina Faso's somewhat unfortunate 2-1 defeat to Angola. Nobody attempted more take-ons (seven, with three completed) and, perhaps not uncoincidentally, nobody suffered more fouls (seven) – but only attempted one cross (uncompleted), didn't create any chances and was outpassed by 11 players, including six of his own team-mates.Watch him vs Ivory Coast, Thu 26th, 7pm; vs Sudan, Mon 30th, 6pm
Emmanuel Mayuka (Zambia and Young Boys)When Seydou Doumbia left Young Boys for Russia the Swiss outfit were quite clear about who would replace him, wasting no time in securing a deal for promising young Zambian Emmanuel Mayuka. Now just turned 21, the bustling striker first came to attention at the Under-20 World Cup in 2007, where he starred for a junior Chipolopolo side that made the last 16.
He was the youngest player at the African Cup of Nations 2008 and has shown very promising development in the years since, thanks to his presence in attack and explosive change of pace. Mayuka, who has said that his dream is to play for Manchester United, can play as a lone striker or drift across the front three and scythe his way in-field via the channels.
ACoN 2012 started well for both Mayuka and Zambia: his 12th-minute header sent the southern side on the way to a precious 2-1 win over group favourites Senegal. He only had one other shot but got it on target, and his danger-man tag was shown in that nobody drew more fouls than him (four). Watch him vs Libya, Wed 25th, 4pm; vs Equatorial Guinea, Sun 29th, 6pm
Modibo Maiga (Mali and Sochaux)
Off the field, Modibo Maiga has been a disaster this season: throwing tantrums, insulting his own supporters and even refusing to play for Sochaux. It all stems from a long-held desire to leave the Ligue 1 strugglers for a bigger club which, in fairness, his abundant talent probably warrants.
Nevertheless his shenanigans have been quite disheartening to witness and one wonders to what extent it was his misbehaviour, rather than worries over the state of his knee, that caused Newcastle United to pull out of an £8m deal.
It's a shame because when on his game the Mali international is a real handful – aggressive, alert, strong in the air and a good finisher. Scoring 15 league goals last season suggest he can do it at a high level, and having been rejected by the Magpies he will be desperate to impress watching scouts here to rescue him from his nightmare in Montbéliard. Watch him vs Guinea, Tue 24th, 7pm; Ghana, Sat 28th, 7pm; Botswana, Wed 1st, 6pm
Follow the Cup with FourFourTwo's news, analysis and new ACoN version of Stats Zone – it's all free!
Jonathan Wilson: ACoN diary: Drogba, Dogtanian & a double-headerMichael Cox: How will Premier League strikers fare at ACoN 2012?Jonathan Fadugba: Why Africa's 41st-best football nation is hosting ACoN 2012
Earlier this week, Jonathan Fadugba picked out five excellent players at the Africa Cup of Nations who
For a team that could just as easily be sitting at home watching on TV, they made a pretty good start
ZonalMarking.net 's Michael Cox uses the FREE Africa Cup of Nations version of Stats Zone to analyse
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