FIVE – YANNICK BOLASSIE
The DR Congo international is emerging as one of the most electrifying wingers of the campaign, leaving many fullbacks for dead in the red and blue of Crystal Palace.
A marauder of the flanks, Bolassie has appeared in every game for the Eagles this season and started all but one before joining up with his compatriots for AFCON.
The Congolese winger is also proving to be a tricky winger, producing a mesmerizing piece of skill against Spurs and even asking EA to upgrade his skill moves in FIFA 15!
The 25-year-old’s seemingly endless energy means he is the club’s top provider with three assists and whilst he has only scored once this campaign, Bolassie has vowed to score more upon his return to Selhurst Park.
He set about proving his point by grabbing a late equaliser for DR Congo against Cameroon in the last warm up friendly before AFCON gets underway.
DR Congo are in Group B and will face Zambia on January 18, Cape Verde on January 22 and Tunisia on January 26.
FOUR – NABIL BENTALEB
The Tottenham Hotspur youngster was given his shot by Tim Sherwood this time last year and has developed into a very accomplished player.
Bentaleb was a part of the Algeria squad that reached the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and started every game of the group stage. Les Fennecs (The Desert Foxes) also won every AFCON qualification match the 20-yeaar-old played in.
Under Mauricio Pochetinno the Algerian had to fight for fitness and his place in central midfield early on in the season but is nailed on after to starting every game from the end of November, only missing the clash against Manchester United during the hectic Christmas period.
At 6’2” Bentaleb is built for attrition in addition to being a deceptively quick player. As a defensive midfielder he has a taste for a tackle but also an eye for a pass, with a success rate of 86.5% over 11 Premier League games.
With players like Leicester’s dynamic, Rihad Mahrez and BBC African Footballer of the Year, Yacine Brahimi also in the Algeria squad, Bentaleb will most probably play the part of the unsung hero.
Though you will do well to remember that these talents will only have the freedom to attack because of Bentaleb’s disciplined governing in midfield. Algeria will play South Africa on January 19, Ghana on January 23 and Senegal on January 27 in Group C.
THREE – SADIO MANE
The Southampton winger is confirmed as part of Senegal’s 23-man squad despite picking up an injury against Arsenal on New Years Day.
Mane is due to join up with Senegal at their training camp in Morocco tomorrow, at which point coach Alain Giresse and the medical staff will decide whether he is fit to take part in the tournament.
Saints boss Ronald Koeman initially expected Mane to sidelined for up to 6 weeks but an injury update later showed that he is recovering faster than anticipated.
Mane has scored five and set up two since making a deadline day move from Red Bull Salzburg for £10 million at the end of the summer. The 22-year-old netted 3 in the last three games before he was summoned for international duty, with tidy finishes against London trio Crystal Palace, Chelsea and Arsenal.
His Premier League compatriots include Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse and Stoke’s Mame Biram Diouf. Both are in fine form this season scoring 9 and 6, respectively. If Mane can combine with either striker the Lions of Teranga could be a ferocious attacking force.
As previously mentioned Senegal have a tricky draw in Group C, facing Ghana on January 19, South Africa on January 23 and Algeria on January 27.
TWO – YAYA TOURE
The Manchester City powerhouse succeeds Didier Drogba as the captain of the Ivory Coast after the Chelsea striker retired from international football following the 2014 World Cup.
Domestically, Toure has not quite reached the pinnacle of his powers. He was a force to be reckoned with last season, dragging City to a second premier league title in three years.
The re-emergence of that unstoppable player is beginning to surface though, with some excellent performances over the past few weeks, scoring four goals in five games.
Perhaps if the four-time African Player of the Year can channel his talents for Les Elephants, not only will he return with an abundance of confidence having won the AFCON title but he could also return as the man to help City to a second consecutive Premier League title.
Joining Yaya Toure on the pitch from the EPL will be his brother Kolo, Newcastle midfielder Cheik Tiote and Manchester City’s latest acquisition…
ONE – WILFRIED BONY
The striker cost Manchester City a reported £28 million to prize away from Swansea City, but with 34 goals in 70 games for the Welsh side it’s easy to see why he is so highly valued.
Bony found the net 20 times in the calendar year to make him the Premier League’s top scorer of 2014, placing him above the likes Sergio Aguero, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge.
His last act as a Swansea player was rescuing a point against West Ham with a powerful header that Mark Noble could only put into his own net.
With Drogba retiring, Bony will finally have the opportunity to step up as the new spearhead for the Les Elephants. Formidable form coupled with a very talented squad could see the striker take this tournament by the scruff of the neck.
The Ivory Coast defeated outgoing AFCON champions Nigeria 1-0 in their final game before their Group D matches against Guinea on January 20, Mali on January 24 and Cameroon on January 28.
The African Cup of Nations gets underway on Saturday 17 January with hosts Equatorial Guinea taking on Congo at 4PM in the first game of Group A. The final is due to be played on Sunday 8 February.