Jerome Guihoata – Cameroon
One of the more obscure call ups to the post-Brazil 2014 revolution, the previously unheardof Jerome Guihoata has become a regular member of the Cameroonian defence, partnering the excellent Nicholas N’Koulou at the heart of the defence. Representing the financially troubled Ligue 2 side Valenciennes, the previously unheardof 20-year-old has benefitted hugely from the overhaul of players since the summer, and has put in some impressively mature performances in his 4 appearances for his country. Helping limit Ivory Coast to just a single goal in the Indomtable Lions’ 4-1 victory of the Elephants in September, how Guihoata handles the environment of an international tournament will be a signal of how his international career is likely to pan out. And with Aurelien Chedjou waiting in the wings to take his place in the team, the pressure is on for Guihoata.
Lamine Sane – Senegal
Despite a knee injury keeping him out of all but two of the qualifiers, Lamine Sane is likely to be a key component of the backline of this Senegal team, after being part of Willy Sagnol’s impressive Bordeaux this season in Ligue 1. Likely to partner Papy Djilobodji at center-back, Sane’s aerial prowess and excellent reading of the game makes coming up against the Lions of Teranga defence a harrowing prospect for any team, in what is an eagerly anticipated tournament for Senegal. Beating his brother Salif Sane to a call-up, concerns over Lamine’s fitness after missing such a large proportion of the games can be dismissed, having been a regular in the Bordeaux starting XI since returning – once again taking up his role as captain of his club. He will be key to taking his Senegal side out of the wilderness of recent years.
Baba Rahman – Ghana
Ghana have trialled more players at left back than any other position in the last decade. Candidates in the role have included the steady if unspectacular German-bred Hans Sarpei, to the forgettable Masahudu Alhassan, and, more recently, to the central midfielder-cum-left back Kwadwo Asamoah.
In Augsburg’s Baba Rahman Ghana look to have found the top-class panacea they craved. Pacey, a good reader of the game and a statistically, robotically high crosser of the ball per game, Rahman made his debut in September in Ghana’s 3-2 win over Togo, assisting the winner in the process, and has made the position his own ever since. Aged just 20, perhaps a long term solution to a long term problem has been found by the Black Stars.
Eric Bailly – Cote D’Ivoire
The 20-year-old made his full debut for Espanyol only in November, but his impact over the month that followed was so significant that he has been included in the full Ivory Coast Afcon 2013 squad despite having never previously been called up.
Spotted by Espanyol at a youth tournament in Burkina Faso in 2011, many of the qualities that made the Catalans take a punt on him are still apparent. Powerful, vigilant and aggressive in the tackle, such is the state of the Ivory Coast centre-back core that Herve Renard may be forced to throw the uncapped manchild straight into the starting XI.
Having faced Barcelona at the Camp Nou last month and given a good account of yourself, and with the current, and previous, Espanyol management rating him very highly, Renard will certainly not have any sleepless nights if he ponders on whether to include him.
Ali Maaloul – Tunisia
A key component in CS Sfaxien’s rise in the last two years, it speaks volumes that Maaloul still remains at the club whilst team-mates Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, Ferjani Sassi and Ibrahima Ndong have sealed moves to Europe. The left back has generally been an unsung hero in the rise of CS Sfaxien, not that it has stopped him from being consistently on song.
His enormous energy down the left has been a key and understated feature of Sfaxien’s attacking play, and that readiness to get forward has been replicated in national team colours in a position that was problematic. A danger from long range, Yassine Chikhaoui and Wahbi Khazri, Tunisia’s two designated set-piece takers, won’t hesitate to give him the odd free kick if it is in his territory.
Faouzi Ghoulam – Algeria
He has been neglected during most end of the year award ceremonies, but Faouzi Ghoulam has enjoyed a very successful calendar year. When completing his medical at Napoli’s, the team physio had to stop Ghoulam continuing his VO2 Max test, as the Algerian fullback was not tiring. 2014 is a testament to his endurance as Ghoulam has played more than 50 matches, and pitched in with 5 assists. Christian Gourcuff is sure to start Ghoulam as left fullback, where he should successfully combine with Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City.
Florentin Pogba – Guinea
Saint-Etienne boast the best defensive record in Ligue 1, and they owe much of their success to Florentin Pogba. The Guinean centre-half has forged an airtight partnership with veteran Loic Perrin, and now will play an important role for his country at the Africa Cup of Nations. Pogba has a considered defending style, not diving into tackles, but preferring to read dangerous situations and clearing danger with intelligent interceptions.
Chancel Mbemba – DR Congo
Dubbed ‘The New Kompany’ in Belgium, Mbemba is turning heads at Anderlecht. The Congolese stopper has done a wonderful job of replacing Cheikhou Kouyate in the off-season. Standing at just five-foot-eleven, Mbemba he isn’t the largest of defenders, but he is blessed with bags of recovery pace, and remarkable leaping ability to compensate. His two goals against Galatasaray in the Champions League booked a place in the Europa League for the Belgian champions. Mbemba will now play an important role for Florent Ibenge and the DR Congo in Equatorial Guinea as they will try to compete in an extremely tough Group B.
Stoppila Sunzu – Zambia
Stoppila Sunzu made his name during the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations when he marshaled Zambia to its first ever continental title, stopping the likes of Drogba and Gyan with ease. At TP Mazembe, Sunzu played in the heart of defence or as a defensive midfielder. He equally impressed at Sochaux after former coach Herve Renard convinced him to join Les Lionceaux in a relegation battle. Now an experienced head for the Chipolopolo, Sunzu must try to recapture his past form if Zambia are to stand a chance against DR Congo, Tunisia, or Cape Verde.
Rivaldo Coetzee – South Africa
While Rivaldo Coetzee’s record as Bafana Bafana’s youngest ever player didn’t last too long, the 18-year-old’s significance to the South African national team just might.
Shakes Mashaba shocked a lot of people when he named Coetzee in his squad during African Cup of Nations qualification, never mind when he announced that he would be starting against Congo.
Having grown up with the Ajax system, the youngster shows maturity beyond his years and often displays composure on the ball that you would not expect from a player his age.
His obvious weakness is his lack of experience, however his ability to read the game and keep calm under pressure could prove vital for Bafana in Equatorial Guinea and beyond.