24 years old/Central midfielder
Increased responsibility often brings out the best in us. That maxim certainly applies to Kabore’s role with Burkina Faso. In South Africa, Kabore will be asked to not only recuperate possession, but to distribute it accurately. His time in the spotlight has seen him develop panoptical vision and he does see the runs of Pitroipa, Dagano and Traore. Actualizing the pass is a slightly different issue, but significant improvements have been noted, especially in his range of passing.
27 years old/Central midfielder
The ‘Guedioura Syndrome’ is a new medical term coined by the Wolverhampton faithful used to describe symptoms the Algerian midfielder displayed. If contracted, the condition necessitates an inverse complex applied to a conventional playing style. Simply put, Guedioura has trouble doing the easy things, yet effortlessly accomplishes the tougher feats in football. He’s the type to underhit a five yard pass, then smack a 40-yard screamer in successive possessions. In good form, Guedioura smoothes out the defects in his game and retains the oomph that allows him to do this or this.
Seemingly one of the more banal names on Mali’s team sheet which features the likes of Momo Sissoko, Seydou Keita, Bakaye Traore and Mahamadou Diarra. Yet Alain Giresse – and now Phillipe Carteron – have rarely played a game without Kalilou Traore. The Sochaux midfielder brings the clichéd steel and power to midfield. His offensive utility lies in late forages into the box.
Al Hilal (KSA)/Morocco
26 years old/Holding midfielder
A sombre midfielder who quietly goes about his duties. Hermach, incidentally Morocco’s new skipper, will be one of the less athletic midfielders on this list but his technique and experience largely compensate in that regard. With the absence of Kharja, gaffer Rachid Taoussi will rely on the Hermach-El Ahmadi fulcrum to instil maturity and restraint in an energetic, attack-minded torso.
31 years old/Defensive midfielder
Mr Reliable. Paul Scholes with a shisha pipe. Sergen Yalcin with table manners. For much of his career, the midfielder was tucked away in Norway and simply didn’t exist to Tunisian managers. In 2011, he returned to Tunisia and he has arisen as one of the best players plying his trade in Africa. Indefatigably the best regista playing in Africa, Mouelhi treats the ball assiduously, seldom giving it away and possesses a mixture of playmaking and playbreaking that provide the equilibrium for Esperance and Tunisia. He may be the last hope for a Tunisia side which has shown precarious mickey mouse defending ahead of the tournament.
28 years old/Central midfielder
The gladiatorial midfielder will be maintaining order in midfield for DR Congo, but every now and then he will make a one-man driving maul through midfield that even a scrum of Jonah Lomus wouldn’t be able to restrain. The manifestation of this came in the 60th minute of DR Congo’s first leg play-off tie against a plucky Equatorial Guinea side, the Freiburg midfielder must have thought: enough is enough, I’m going to South Africa in January. He exchanged passes with Kasusula down the left before motoring on and squaring the ball for Dieumerci Mbokani to tuck in the opening goal. After that, the floodgates opened and, as they say, the rest is history.
Ajax Amsterdam/South Africa
22 years old/Attacking midfielder
Dear Steven Pienaar, if you refuse to play for your country when they’re hosting a football tournament then what’s the point of anything in life? Oh well, it doesn’t matter, there’s Thulani Serero. The Ajax attacking midfielder glides past defenders as absent-mindedly as a footballer spouts clichés or Emmanuel Adebayor toys with the Togo FA. Nobody will slalom towards goal with the same blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quicksilver motion as Serero at the Cup of Nations. Nobody, apart from Tunisia’s Youssef Msakni perhaps, will leave more sorry defenders painting horribly in their slipstream. This tournament could be Thulani Serero’s pilot show to so much more.
20 years old/Attacking midfielder
Aptly, it was against Malawi, nicknamed the Flames, that Atsu rose to international prominence. The miserable Malawians were like fire engines going to the wrong fire, completely hapless in dealing with his Velcro touch. Whilst Ghanaian football hasn’t been in the doldrums, it has lacked the edge-of-your-seat excitement. Three of the four goals they scored at the last Cup of Nations, for example, came from set-pieces. The inclusion of Atsu, who was Rio Ave’s player of the season when he went there on a season-long loan, hasn’t only added much needed pizazz but it has also made them Feel Good FC as they have gobbled up goals they have been deprived of in the past. Like Serero, this could be the tournament that acts as a prelude to the rest of Atsu’s career.
25 years old/Holding midfielder
In Sewnat Bishaw’s Ethiopian football cyclone, Addis Hintsa exemplifies the metaphorical eye of the storm. While bedlam ensues around the peripheral extremities of the pitch, Addis Hintsa seems unbothered. He casually holds his position, almost lazily knocking the rock from one side to the other. The tall midfielder’s distribution will be key if Ethiopia are to have a prayer in Group C. Hintsa’s cult hero factor only adds to the list of reasons on why he’s a player to look out for.