The 29th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations got under way in South Africa on Saturday with, as usual, a plethora of Premier League stars taking part in the competition.
All in all, 16 nations are competing in this three-week jamboree of football, and there will be 15 familiar faces on show for those of a Premier League persuasion to keep an eye out on.
One of the pre-tournament favourites, the Ivory Coast, have the highest number of English top-flight representatives in the Rainbow Nation with six, while Morocco (2), Nigeria (2), Mali (2), Zambia (1), Togo (1) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (1) all have Premier League players among their numbers.
And, here are the ones to keep an eye out for …
Instead of featuring in Chelsea’s 2-1 home win over Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday, Victor Moses will instead be hoping to play a starring role as Nigeria take on Burkina Faso in their opening Group C fixture at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelsprui on Monday.
The 22-year-old, who has represented England at all age levels from Under-16 through to Under-21, finally decided to throw in his lot with the country of his birth after making his senior international debut two years ago, and while he now has six caps to his name, this will still be Moses’s African Cup of Nations debut.
However, if the left-winger’s displays so far for European champions Chelsea are anything to go by, in what is the player’s first season at Stamford Bridge, then expect the quick-footed and unpredictable Moses to be one of the Super Green Eagles’s key men in South Africa.
And, if Moses brings his top-flight form to South Africa, then Nigeria have every chance of claiming their first AFCON title since 1994.
If minnows Togo are to stand any chance of qualifying for the knockout stages by finishing in the top two of a group also containing African powerhouses Ivory Coast, Algeria and Tunisia, then they are going to need something special from their one-time captain and Tottenham Hotspur front man.
The 28-year-old, who is only playing in the tournament after deciding to come out of international retirement in November 2011 following assurances on safety given by the Togolese Football Federation, will need to add to his already impressive tally of 26 goals in 54 appearances for theSparrow Hawks, but if anyone can turn it on when it really matters and deliver on one of the biggest stages of all, then it is the 2008 African Footballer of the Year.
The tough-tackling defensive midfield player actually made his full international debut for Mali in a 1-0 win over Guinea in last year’s tournament, and his outstanding form in that competition, as the Eagles surprisingly made it all the way to the semi-finals, led Premier League side Queens Park Rangers to sign the player last January. The agreement was initially a loan deal before Samba Diakite joined the West Londoners permanently on a four-year deal for a reported £3.5 million in the summer.
The 23-year-old, who came on as a late substitute in Mali’s opening Group B fixture on Saturday, a 1-0 win over Niger, had considered not taking part in this year’s AFCON in order to stay and help QPR with their battle to remain in the Premier League.
However, his change of heart will now give Mali every chance of progressing from their group, with Diakite providing his country with protection to the back four, control at the base of midfield and the breaking up of opposition attacks with his aggressive and powerful tackling.
If the Democratic Republic of Congo are to make any impression on this year’s tournament, then they will need the West Bromwich Albion defensive midfield player to carry on the already outstanding form that he has been regularly displaying in partnership with Claudio Yacob so far this season for the Baggies.
Youssuf Mulumbu, who made his AFCON debut in Sunday’s thrilling 2-2 with Group B favourites Ghana, is one of those player’s who likes to keep things simple, basing his game around high-energy pressing, precision tackling and simple, accurate passing, skills that on the one hand may lead him to slip under people’s radars at times, but traits that are also highly valued by his teammates and managers alike.
And, you can bet that the Leopards' head coach, Claude Le Roy, was as relieved as anyone last July when the 25-year-old water-carrier decided to reverse his decision from the previous year and come out of international retirement for this competition.
As befits the two-time and reigning African Football of the Year, all eyes will be on Manchester City’s powerful and long-striding midfield player these next three weeks in South Africa to see if he can help inspire the Ivory Coast to go one better than they managed in last year’s tournament, when Toure drove the Elephants all the way to the final, only for them to then lose on penalties to Zambia.
The 29-year-old, who like so many of his international teammates grew up learning and playing his football at the ASEC Mimosas Academy, has taken part in all of the Ivory Coast’s previous four international tournaments, but you wonder how many more he has left in the tank.
And, there would be no more fitting way for the player who is equally adept at putting out fires in front of his back four as he is playing the No. 10 role behind Didier Drogba to end his illustrious international career than by leading the Elephants to victory in a competition that they have only ever won once before in their history.