Cedric Bakambu – Villareal | DR Congo
Whilst DR Congo have been blessed in recent years with a variety of tricky strikers that have an unpredictable, slightly chaotic nature to their style of play, Cedric Bakambu is a relative oasis of calm in amongst the storm that is The Leopards’ offensive play. After making a name for himself with some impressive goalscoring feats for Villareal, his national side have taken advantage of the France-born Bakambu’s Congolese heritage in 2015, despite representing France at youth level. After a comprehensive qualifying campaign for DR Congo, Bakambu will be looking to continue his domestic form in Gabon.
An intelligent striker whose excellent movement and calmness in front of goal has made him very effective at kicking the ball in the goal, Bakambu’s stock just keeps on rising, scoring over 20 goals last season in La Liga after picking him up from Bursaspor. Also no slouch when moving about the pitch, he slips straight into his country’s rapid forward play, enabling him to keep pace with the eccentric way with which they advance up the pitch.
Possessing a strong identification with his Congolese heritage, saying that football was the tool that strengthened this tie for him, he has the chance to really assert himself as DR Congo’s frontline striker for the future if he can provide the sort of cutting edge he has done in Spain.
Moussa Marega – Porto / Vitoria Guimaraes | Mali
Marega was born in Les Ulis, the same commune as Thierry Henry and Anthony Martial, but It’s fair to say that we definitely won’t witness a mishmash of the two Frenchman in the 25-year-old. Marega is the sort of brawny, all-action target man Mali have been crying out for, and Giresse has fully embraced him, allowing him time to cement his place in the team despite firing blanks for the vast majority of his international career so far.
In an unconventional career path that has taken him to Tunisia, in the blood and gold of Esperance, it his subsequent move to Maritimo in Portugal which saw him make a name for himself, and prompt Porto to acquire his services. He is now sitting second in the goal-scoring charts with 10 goals in 12 games for Vitoria Guimaraes, on loan from his home club. European scouts will be keeping a close eye on him, and he’s in the half of the draw where good performances against some of the highest calibre opposition the tournament has to offer could really see his career really take off.
Jonathan Bolingi – TP Mazembe | DR Congo
When Tanzanian marksman Mbwana Samatta left TP Mazembe, many pondered how they would replace his goal-scoring prowess. Would they splash the cash on a ready-made replacement, something they could do with ease, or would they entrust Jonathan Bolingi, like Samatta before him, to evolve into the role? They had seen enough in the young striker to promote from within, and Bolingi has gone on to become one of the continent’s first class strikers, scoring 6 goals in last year’s Africa Confederation Cup.
When it’s a Bolingi finish, you know it’s a Bolingi finish: the emphatic, instinctive nature of his finishes propels him as a striker in the purest, thrilling sense. Most impressive of all, it doesn’t seem to matter too much whether he starts games or is summoned from the bench; he always makes an impact.
Balde Keita – Lazio | Senegal
It used to be that Senegal had a cohort of the good and the very good in their strike-force but, Sadio Mane aside, no one to supply them with the adequate service to use the full range of their ability. The coup of bringing the Spanish-born Balde Keita into their midst has changed all that. The Lazio winger has eased the creative burden on Mane since his introduction to international football.
He’s nearly as direct, and nearly as creative, as the Liverpool attacking midfielder. And the similarities don’t stop there – most important of all, perhaps, for a Senegal team which can be inhibited when it comes to tournament time, Keita, like Mane, seems to genuinely relish the pressure of international football.
Mahmoud Kahraba – Zamalek | Egypt
The 22-year-old was part of an Egypt team which won the U20 AFCON back in 2013, signalling the potential beginning of a new, successful generation. Time is on his side, but attitude issues haven’t helped Kahraba’s progress despite the obvious potential he has.
He left Zamalek to join Al Ittihad on a season-long loan last July, shortly after falling out with the coaching staff. Despite all that, he joined the Saudi club promising to be a good ambassador for Zamalek. And he has, befitting his alias (Kahraba means ‘Electricity’) with some truly electrifying performances. Playing in one of the middle east’s most aesthetic attacks, Diego Simeone was particularly impressed in a recent friendly, singling him out for praise after the game.
His current form makes it inconceivable to think that Hector Cuper will not make good use of him at some point during the tournament.
Rachid Ghezzal – Lyon | Algeria
Born and bred in Lyon, Rachid Ghezzal has broken away from the mould of his older brother, Abdelkader, who was a robust and generous striker. Mention a lithe, nimble, left-footed inverted Algerian winger, and most people immediately think of Riyad Mahrez. Rachid might not yet be on Mahrez’s level, but the 24-year-old is performing at a very high level, especially in the final third. Look for him to make contributions late in the match as a super sub.
Farouk Miya – Standard Liege | Uganda
Miya has not only struggled to play games for Standard Liege, he has regular failed to make matchday squads after his summer move. He has been summoned to train with the developmental team as his new club re-evaluate his game. That has been a shock to those who rate him highly, but at just 19 it’s easy to forget how young he is as, like many of the Uganda team, he has been around for a while.
When he puts on the UGANDA-emblazoned shirt his form and readiness are an entirely different matter. Direct and explosive, he adds the type of cutting edge that was missing in the past; the difference between Uganda qualifying for tournaments and not. Unsurprisingly, it was he who scored the winner versus Comoros to book Uganda’s first return to AFCON since 1978.