One of the most underrated football tournaments gets underway today-African Cup of Nations. This year, like many others in the past, features some of the best African talent from around the planet. The usually suspects are all there-Aubameyang, Mahrez, Mane, Aurier-but the supporting cast, or the “less known” players are also very important.
Here are five I think you should keep your eye on
Guelor Kanga, Red Star Belgrade & Gabon
2016/17 stats: 15 matches, one goal, 10 assists
I do not want people to think I am biased for putting a Red Star player on this list. But Kanga will be the main provider for Aubameyang throughout this tournament. Kanga is an excellent distributor of the ball, but is not shy to take his shot as well and he possesses a rocket. His temper; however, has gotten him into trouble in the past; something to keep an eye on.
Idrissa Gueye, Everton & Senegal
2016/17 stats: 21 matches, two assists, 4.9 tackles, 2.3 interceptions
Gueye ranks first in the EPL with 4.9 tackles per game and is in the top 30 in both interceptions as well as dribbles per game. With all the offensive weapons that Senegal possesses, Gueye will need to play big on the defensive side of the ball. If he can do that, there is no reason why Senegal cannot be crowned champions of Africa.
Franck Kessie, Atalanta & Ivory Coast
2016/17 stats: 17 matches, seven goals, two assists
Kessie has come up in transfer talks recently. The 20 year old has been linked to many big name clubs in England. On an Ivory Coast team that has plenty of big name players, Kessie will look to make an even bigger name for himself on the international stage. His physicality, speed and vision will need to be on full display. The 20 year old may not start, but he will need to impact games off the bench when call upon.
Thomas Partey, Atletico Madrid & Ghana
2016/17 stats: eight matches, two assists
Partey has not seen much of the pitch this season in La Liga, but will need to make his presence felt when given the opportunity. Hopefully Partey can get some much needed playing time and prove to Simeone that he should be playing more than he has at Atletico Madrid. Partey has great free kick ability and is often gets fouled due to opponents having trouble stopping him in the open field.
Kalidou Koulibaly, Napoli & Senegal
2016/17 stats: 22 matches, one goal, 89.9 passing %, 2.3 aerials won
As I mentioned earlier, Senegal has an array of players who can put the ball in the net, so having a defender like Koulibaly will help immensely on the defensive side. Koulibaly is one of the best defenders in this tournament and will need to play at a high level throughout. His passing from the back will be key to get attacks started. Koulibaly does commit quite a few fouls, something to keep in mind as the tournament progresses because they could lead to scoring chances for opposition.
Ogi is a graduate of Humber College’s Sport Management program. He is the founder of Blago Blogger Sports.