Clinton N’Jie – Cameroon
Thrown into the deep end for Cameroon’s opening two qualifying games, the Olympique Lyonnais attacker ‘s international football inauguration was, in line with his first name, majestic.
Deemed to be a hazy, rugged finisher at club level, N’Jie, 21, has shown little signs that his finishing needs fine-tuning with the Indomitable Lions. Playing with the vivaciousness of youth against DR Congo and in the 4-1 defenestration of Ivory Coast, N’Jie has been tailored for Volker Finke’s reconstruction of the side, recording 3 goals in 6 matches as a roving winger.
His speed, desire and cherishing of responsibility, amidst the backdrop of the instant connection forged with Vincent Aboubakar, bodes very well for a Cameroon team that have had an individualistic, lopsided forward line for too long.
Hamza Mathlouthi – Tunisia
When Samih Derbali, one of Tunisia’s first choice right-backs over the last few years, is nicknamed Boulevard, you appreciate just how vulnerable Tunisia’s right side had become.
But it isn’t so easy to bypass now. Diligent, touch-tackling Hamza Mathlouthi mans the right back position and he has made it his own. The 22-year-old may lack the nightclub bouncer frame and may not be exceptionally fast, but his battling runs and defensive discipline make him a particular key cog in Tunisia’s 3-5-2 system.
With an exodus to Europe at CS Sfaxien, the 2014 African Champion’s League semi-finalists are rumoured to be keen to add the defender as one of their reinforcements.
Jonathan Zongo – Burkina Faso
One of the stories of AFCON 2013 was Burkina Faso stampede to the final, but a forgotten fact from their memorable run is the bluntness of their attack. Indeed, they only won one game in 90 minutes during their run to the final.
Part of the problem stemmed from the wide positions. Rewind your memory and you may recall the Burkina Faso flanks being patrolled by wonderfully-named but workaday wingers such as Wilfried Sanou and Hugues-Wilfried Dah; all powerful running but dithering decision-making.
Since then, the understated upgrade of Jonathan Zongo arisen and in doing so has helped to make the Stallions’ attack become one of the continent’s most cohesive. Rangy, powerful and unselfish, the Almeria winger’s versatility, link up play and reliable delivery have brought out the best in those around him, particularly Jonathan Pitroipa. Capable of playing on either wing, Zongo’s height and aerial ability also gives Burkina Faso a genuine Route 1 option.
Emilio Nsue – Equatorial Guinea
If first impressions do indeed last forever, Emilio Nsue is already a hero in his native Equatorial Guinea. Nsue scored a game winner and a hat trick in his first two matches for the Central Africans. His unofficial goal-scoring record stands at 4 goals in 2 matches, though all four strikes were rescinded as both matches were forfeited on the grounds of fielding ineligible players.
The former Mallorca product has failed to replicate that kind of form at Middlesborough, where he is yet to score a single goal. His lack of form in England does not bode well for Equatorial Guinea, who will rely on the cornrowed striker to provide thrust in attack.
Wahbi Khazri – Tunisia
Wahbi Khazri has registered six goals in his short career with the Tunisian national team. Of the six, five have been direct free-kicks. The Bordeaux winger, who boasts a sterling reputation in France, could stake a claim for most dangerous dead ball specialist in Africa. On Sunday evening, Khazri struck again. Playing a pre-tournament friendly against Algeria, the bald-headed maestro swept in a free-kick from 19 yards out, leaving Algerian keeper Rais M’Bolhi with no chance.
But Khazri is no one trick pony. The free-kick specialist is perfectly adept on the wing, taking on players and whipping in dangerous crosses.
Chisamba Lungu – Zambia
Those who have watched Chisamba Lungu play will know that he can stake a claim as one of the most versatile players in Africa. Most of the time, the skinny FC Ural midfielder is placed in midfield alongside Nathan Sinkala. He does not reach the height or weight requirements most coaches demand of their central midfielders, but he compensates with his intelligence.
One of Lungu’s best matches in a Zambian shirt was in a friendly against Brazil before the World Cup. Against the Selecao he displayed the strongest attributes of his game, which are: close control, the ability remain clam under pressure, and intricate short-passing.
Junior Kabananga – DR Congo
Junior Kabananga is one of Florent Ibenge’s many revelations alongside Neeskens Kebano, Firmin Ndombe Mubele, Jeremy Bokila, Heritier Luvumbu, and Chancel Mbemba. The Zulte-Waregem striker has benefitted from defences sleeping on him by turning an eye on highlight reel specialist Yannick Bolasie.
He occupies the opposite wing and will have no complaints if the opponents in Group B make the same fatal mistakes. Kabananga is the 3rd leading scorer in the Jupiler League, and has hit the onion bag once with the Leopards of DR Congo.
Medhi Lacen – Algeria
Algeria now have a litany of household names in their squad. Yacine Brahimi, Sofiane Feghouli, and Nabil Bentaleb all play at the biggest clubs and they will understandably draw all the praise. But coach Christian Gourcuff singled out one man for praise at the beginning of training camp and that was Medhi Lacen. Lacen started all six matches of the qualification campaign and completed the highest number of passes with the highest passing percentages.
In addition to his metronomic role in midfield, Lacen also fulfills defensive responsibilities by rarely every foraying forward, instead covering his more adventurous fullback Faouzi Ghoulam.
Mubarak Wakaso – Ghana
He isn’t Ghana’s biggest name, but, at times, Mubarak Wakaso has single-handedly carried the Black Stars in important fixtures. In the 2013 AFCON, for instance, Wakaso was on hand to perfectly dispatch several penalty-kicks as Ghana progressed to the semi-finals.
Now playing his trade in Glasgow for Celtic, Wakaso will probably occupy a wide position if Avram Grant plays a 3-5-2. Opponents must be wary of his powerful left foot that can threaten from a distance.
Henri Bedimo – Cameroon
As a young lad, Henri Bedimo started playing his football at striker. It’s a biographical fact that is easily confirmed when watching him play. The Lyon fullback plays with ants in his pants, always twitching to join the attack at any half chance that presents itself.
Last season Bedimo tallied the most assists out of any fullback playing in Europe’s top five leagues. He cemented his position in the Cameroon side after Benoit Assou-Ekotto headbutted teammate Benjamin Moukandjo against Croatia in the World Cup.