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Opinions of Sunday, 5 February 2017

Columnist: Goal.com

Top 5 breakout stars of the AFCON 2017

Ahead of the Nations Cup, there were some concerns that this tournament shorn of big-name players—the likes of Gervinho, Yannick Bolasie and Joel Matip all missed out for various reasons—would lack the starpower that typically characterises major tournaments. However, in the absence of various African heavyweights, some of the continent’s less heralded stars have stepped into the breach and proved that they can hold their own. In this gallery, Goal profile the tournament’s top five breakout stars.



1. Christian Bassogog: The 21-year-old was playing at Rainbow FC in his homeland as recently as 2015, and followed that up with a stint at Wilmington Hammerheads in the lower leagues in the United States before switching to Danish side AaB. They are hardly the origins you might expect from a potential Nations Cup star, yet Bassogog has been one of the most eye-catching talents at the tournament. A fine dribbler, he found the net in the semi-final against Ghana, and has ensured that Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting hasn’t been missed!



2. Herve Kouakou Koffi: Admittedly, the youngster’s tournament will be remembered for his penalty miss against Egypt in the semi-finals, when he stepped up boldly only to see his spot kick saved by Essam El Hadary. It shouldn’t be the defining memory of the goalkeeper’s tournament, as he delivered a series of outstanding performances for Burkina Faso as they reached the bronze medal. At just 20, he could enjoy a decade and a half between the sticks for the Stallions



3. Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui: Expectations were low for Cameroon ahead of the tournament after a raft of big-name players either opted out of the competition or were axed by coach Hugo Broos. Yet in their absence, various new faces have proved their worth. 6’ 3 Ngadeu Ngadjui is the most noticeable, and he’s proved to be a man mountain for the Indomitable Lions either in the heart of the defence or in midfield. His contribution at the other end too—he scored against Guinea-Bissau and Ghana—cannot be underestimated.




4. Denis Bouanga: It was a bitterly disappointing tournament performance for hosts Gabon, who failed to win a game and who crashed out in the opening round after a stalemate with neighbours and rivals Cameroon. While star man Pierre-Emerick Aubmeyang struggled to find his groove, however, Bouanga proved that he belongs to be playing at a much higher level than Ligue 2. He was lively, inventive, technically refined, and, after only making his first international start in their opener, is perhaps the key positive the Panthers can take from the Nations Cup.


5. Junior Kabananga: When the aforementioned Bolasie was ruled out of the Nations Cup, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s prospects were severely dented in the eyes of many observers. “How would the Leopards manage to find a way out of the Group of Death without their star man?” The answer came in the form of unheralded Kabananga, who scored three times in the group stage as Florent Ibenge’s side top the group. He’s not a like-for-like replacement for Bolasie, but as the tournament’s top scorer heading into the final, he’s certainly an effective one!