Five African sides are set to represent the continent at the World Cup in Brazil next summer.
These team are at different stages of development, but they all feature exciting young players who can make an impact in Brazil.
This article profiles five of these players: one from each nation, covering a wide variety of positions. These men are at different phases of their international careers, but if they receive their opportunity next summer, they have the potential to leave a lasting impression.
The Super Eagles possess a clutch of young players who could make a big splash at the World Cup next summer.
Chelsea’s Kenneth Omeruo is a young centre-back who plays with the assuredness of a much older man. Ahmed Musa is already a champion of both Africa and Russia and has the movement and pace to unsettle even the world’s best defences. Solomon Kwambe is an exciting full-back who has been a long-term member of the squad.
The pick of the bunch, however, has to be Ogenyi Onazi.
The defensive midfielder entered the first XI during the Cup of Nations and brought balance to the team, emerging as a crucial component for the squad that conquered the continent.
The Lazio man’s rise during 2013 was incredible, so much so that the likes of Everton and Liverpool have been linked with his signature.
Things haven’t worked out quite as planned for Christian Atsu since his summer move to Chelsea. The Ghanaian winger was packed straight off to Vitesse Arnhem, the Blues’ Dutch feeder club.
He had every right to feel like this was a backward step. After playing in the Champions League for FC Porto in early 2013, he found himself turning out for a side that finished only fourth in the Dutch league last season.
This term started slowly.
Atsu has been playing in the centre of the pitch at the GelreDome, rather than his favoured left-wing position, but he is slowly influencing proceedings and changing the complexion of fixtures.
His international career may be affected by the Black Stars’ returning heroes. The likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Michael Essien have come back to the fold now that the World Cup is on the horizon; the competition is threatening to squeeze Atsu out of the first team.
Having started three of the four games ahead of the World Cup Qualifying play-offs against Egypt, he only featured late on in the first leg against the Pharaohs.
However, even though the big names may dominate the starting berths for Ghana, Atsu has a role to play in Brazil. He could be Kwesi Appiah’s secret weapon with his direct, glittering performances out wide.
For a decade, the Golden Generation of the Cote d’Ivoire have flattered to deceive.
The Elephants have persistently promised to be Africa’s outstanding side, but the glittering names and big egos haven’t translated into a continental title or a spot in the World Cup knock-out rounds.
Could the next generation succeed where Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Didier Zokora have failed?
If Serge Aurier is indicative of the quality waiting in the wings, then it shouldn’t be too long before the Elephants make up for failures past. The right-back has usurped Emmanuel Eboue in the starting line-up and is enjoying an unbroken run in the first team.
At club level, he is beginning to look like one of Ligue 1’s most accomplished lateral defenders. Arsene Wenger has been keeping tabs on Aurier as he looks toward a post-Bacary Sagna future.
Despite the wealth of defensive resources available to Indomitable Lions boss Volker Finke, Joel Matip might just be the pick of the bunch for Cameroon.
The centre-back is only 22 but is already an accomplished performer who has all the makings of a top-class defender.
During his time at German side Schalke, for whom he has already passed more than 120 performances, Matip has demonstrated impressive strength and physique but also the technical prowess and vision characteristic of the very best in his position.
If he can escape the lapses that sometimes undermine his performances, Matip can be a rock for the Indomitable Lions in Brazil next summer. He’ll need to be, as the Central Africans will meet the hosts in their final group fixture.
It remains to be seen where Ishak Belfodil will be playing in the months between now and the World Cup. The Algerian hitman only arrived at Inter Milan in the summer, but he has grown frustrated with the limited options at the San Siro.
Despite never losing in an Inter shirt, he has started only two fixtures and has been limited to a bit role. A red card earned against Hellas Verona, when he entered the field as a 65th-minute substitute, sullied his early standing at the club.
A goal in the Italian Cup victory against Trapani is all he has to show for his opening stint at the club.
The striker has been linked with a move away from Serie A. West Ham are desperate for some firepower and have been touted as a potential destination. Either way, he has insisted that his key motivation is to earn minutes ahead of a sojourn to Brazil next summer.
If he can get the momentum going ahead of the World Cup, Belfodil could be an explosive force for the North Africans.