African Cup of Nations: 6 Players to Watch

Nick Akerman@NakermanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2013

African Cup of Nations: 6 Players to Watch

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    The African Cup of Nations is nearly upon us.

    Before South Africa kick off their second home tournament in two years on January 19, it's worth noting a handful of players to watch out for.

    From star strikers to combative defenders, plenty of talent will be on show. We've also got a number of players looking to prove a point through a string of impressive displays.

    For now, enjoy both the article and the tournament!

6. Asamoah Gyan: Ghana

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    Asamoah Gyan is most famous for missing a vital penalty during Ghana the 2010 World Cup. Luis Suarez handled the ball away from goal and Gyan blasted his spot kick over the bar.

    Like his nation's stint in South Africa's last major tournament, Gyan's high-profile club career came to a sudden end.

    His attitude didn't grab the attention of many fans in England, and since his move to Al-Ain, Gyan's failure to pay a promised donation to Sunderland's charitable foundation has left many cursing his presence as a waste of time (via The Daily Mail).

    Exposure on a global stage is just what this player needs. One or two goals could coax a handful of clubs to try and lure the 27-year-old towards Europe once more. The striker will also want to try and make up for that terrible miss from two years ago.

5. Siyabonga Sangweni: South Africa

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    South Africa aren't used to featuring in major tournaments. Tough Group A fixtures against Cape Verde, Angola and Morocco imply the team need to be solid in defence.

    Orland Pirates' Siyabonga Sangweni may be unfamiliar to many fanatics across the world, but he has the ability to keep Bafana Bafana in the tournament. Sangweni is used to winning—especially having come off the back of a treble victory with his club.

    The 31-year-old will need to use all of his experience if South Africa are to progress towards the latter stage of the tournament. Strikers may snatch most of the glory with one or two touches, but it's players like Sangweni who allow this to happen.

4. Victor Moses: Nigeria

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    Victor Moses is one of the tournament's most naturally gifted players. Despite representing England across his youth career, the Chelsea winger has pledged his international future to his country of birth.

    What a coup that is for Nigeria. He is called into Stephen Keshi's 23-man squad with very little experience for the Super Eagles. Despite this, Moses will be more than confident in making a significant impact.

    This is the first real opportunity for the starlet to announce himself on the international stage. His performances at Chelsea—although limited—have been decent so far. Maybe the 22-year-old can force himself into Rafa Benitez's plans by helping his team past Burkina Faso, Zambia and Ethiopia.

3. Younes Belhanda: Morocco

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    Younes Belhanda nearly missed out on the African Cup of Nations due to an adductor injury (via FourFourTwo).

    The rumoured Tottenham Hotspur target (via The Daily Mail) provides a huge boost for Morocco. He is capable of seeing his nation beyond the group challenge of Angola, Cape Verde and hosts South Africa with a diverse array of talents.

    Belhanda is the type of player that can pull his team through by the scruff of the neck. Consider the fact he is playing for a big move away from Montpellier, and it's clear Belhanda will put give his all for the cause.

    Morocco's 22-year-old could be one of the tournament's star performers, no doubt about it.

2. Gervinho: Ivory Coast

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    Yeah, that's right. I deliberately put Gervinho on this list. Love him or hate him, the Arsenal clown is required watching whenever he trundles onto the pitch.

    The Gunners forward scored a brace in Ivory Coast's recent 4-2 win over Egypt (via If The Elephants are to challenge for the title, it's experienced players like Gervinho, Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure that will fire them all the way.

    At least you're guaranteed one of two outcomes when watching the former Lille forward: Gervinho will either perform in a terribly brilliant or brilliantly terrible manner.

1. Emmanuel Adebayor: Togo

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    As reported by BBC Sport, Emmanuel Adebayor's reappearance in a Togo shirt is no mean feat.

    He will captain the side going in a group that includes Ivory Coast, Algeria and Tunisia. Each match is going to be extremely difficult, indicating Adebayor needs to play a huge part in any success.

    He has already defied Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas by outlining his interest in the tournament (via The Independent). If the towering striker fails to score a goal—or Togo are eliminated early—he will return to White Hart Lane looking a complete fool.

    Each appearance is risk and reward for the big man who seems to have gotten lazy across the last month.

    Do you agree with my selections? Let me know in the comment section below and be sure to follow me on Twitter:

    All statistics in this article are courtesy of WhoScored and ESPN.