Didier Ya Konan
Hannover 96/Ivory Coast
28 years old/Forward
When Hannover bought Ya Konan from Rosenborg for a pittance of less than 1 million euros, the move was met with relief by Rosenborg fans and, naturally, decries of “he’s not good enough” by Hannover fans. It didn’t take long for Hannover fans to rhapsodise about the Ivorian when he was integral to their relegation escape in his first season, then scored 14 goals in 28 games and led them to their best-ever Bundesliga finish in his second season. One of the less celebrated names in the Ivory Coast squadron, Ya Konan is a man who receives few first-team opportunities but, with 7 goals in 19 caps, always takes them when they saunter his way. Fast, strong and technically accomplished to adjust his style to play anywhere in the forward or midfield positions, Ya Konan is a man Sabri Lamouchi will turn to if there is a problem.
19 years old/Striker
Whilst Asamoah Gyan’s goalscoring record at international level is more than respectable, when he has been off-form, like the duration of the last Cup of Nations, his replacements have been so workaday that they haven’t even been worth contemplating over. In Richmond Boakye, however, the Black Stars may have just found the potentially top-level striker who is not just an able understudy but could eclipse Gyan in the near future and lead their frontline for years. Boakye, aged 19, is on the books of Juventus but is on a season-long loan with Sassulo, who sit atop of Serie B, and is their top scorer with nine goals this season.
When the 27 year old striker was in exile, DR Congo’s strikeforce was Dieumissy, but when he came back the whole of DR Congo was surely uttering Dieumerci (Thank You, God). The languid striker’s return to the DR Congo team has, predictably, coincided with the Leopards finally dealing with the authentic currency in front of goal and their completion as a team. With the obscenely talented Tresor Mputu playing just behind him, the Anderlecht striker has not only developed a brotherly bond with his captain but, like Mputu, does his work with irresistible languor and perplexing placidness, as if he’s deliberately playing in slow-motion to allow others to catch up with his train of thought.
23 years old/Forward
“I needed someone quick, who could give us depth, take defenders on and run at people with the ball, and he has all those qualities,” said Lille coach Rudi Garcia when he bought Mendes last summer from Le Havre. Those are qualities his national team coach Lucio Antunes has also embraced. Good counter-attacking sides need a mixture of technical excellence and speedsters in their ranks, and Mendes has given Cape Verde both of those essentials. The top scorer in qualifying with three goals in three starts, if the Blue Sharks make a meal out of any team then Mendes will surely be the protagonist.
26 years old/Forward
One of a few successful Maghreb exports in recent times. Khelifa followed his compatriots Darragi, Jemaa, Chikhaoui across the Mediterranean and has established himself in France’s upper tier. Khelifa sprinted passed a petty adaption period and quickly scored one, then another one, and then another three as l’Hexagone began to take notice. Just as his burners started to spark Khelifa contracted an irritating muscular injury, which ruled him out several weeks. Gaffer Sami Trabelsi will undoubtedly count on the likes of Khelifa and Msakni to animate a stagnating Tunisian attack in the coming days.
Football players Human beings don’t come much bigger than Jacob Mulenga. Easily surpassing the six foot benchmark, the Zambian striker makes full use of his body to negotiate himself into scoring positions. Following a satisfactory start to the Eredivisie with Utrecht, Jacob Mulenga is starting to garner interest from abroad – most notably England. The inquiries will be especially welcome as Mulenga cites the likes of John Barnes and Ian Rush as his role models. Mulenga will find it tough to log consistent game time ahead of Emmanuel Mayuka, but when he is subbed on, look for Mulenga to change the dimension of the game.
25 years old/Striker
Maiga is a player who seems at his best with a chip on his shoulder. Being shut out from a Sam Allardyce team for the likes of Andy Carroll or Kevin Nolan will do that to a talented individual of Maiga’s temperament. With moves to Marseille or Newcastle on the books, Maiga will use the fire in his belly to make Big Sam feel small and instigate a move from the East London club. Look for Maiga to play off of the colossal Diabate and profit from his dynamism to push Mali as far as they can go.
El Arbi Hilel Soudani
25 years old/Forward
The lazier pundits will take a look at Soudani’s statistics during the Cup of Nations qualifiers and tip the striker for success. Unfortunately for the integrity of honest journalism, they may be correct. The striker whose name translates to, ‘The Arab Moon, the Sudanese’, is a lot less romantic en face of his opponents than his name indicates. His international scoring record is six goals from eight games, a feat which saw him leapfrog the touted Ryad Boudebouz. Soudani now occupies the left flank in Halilhodzic’s 4-3-3, and he uses his power and pace to get the better of less physically endowed fullbacks. That’s not to say he’s a slouch on the ball as he’s still capable of producing spectacular efforts like these.
24 years old/Striker
It was always going to take a special player to march Ethiopia out from under the depressing shadow of underachievement. It speaks volumes about Saladin Said that he became the talisman for the occasion. Said is one of three players Sewnat Bishaw has selected who plays in a foreign league. He spearheads the Ethiopian vanguard. Speedy, incisive, devastating, Said will be a handful regardless of his opposition. Definitely a striker to watch as the Cup of Nations in South Africa edges nearer and nearer.