The African Cup of Nations is about to kick off in Equatorial Guinea. Some of the continent’s biggest sided will be present, including Ivory Coast, South Africa, Senegal, Algeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Tunisia. Unfortunately powerhouses such as Nigeria and Egypt failed to qualify for the competition but nonetheless, the Cup of Nations has historically been a playground for future world stars. Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Mohamed Aboutrika, Hossam Hassan, Rashidi Yekini, Abedi Pele, and many others all displayed their talents on that stage before any other.
There are a number of young players who have the potential to become well-known names in world football in the near future and they will be exhibiting their talents at the tournament.
Here’s Sport360's pick of the top five prospects to keep an eye out for.
RIVALDO COETZEE (South Africa)
The young South African defender, Rivaldo Coetzee, was little known to most of his countrymen only a few months ago. Hailing from a little town with a population of under 10,000, he made his breakthrough at Ajax Cape Town earlier this season. His rise has been so sudden and quick that he made his Bafana Bafana debut just before his 18th birthday in October 2014. In turn, he became his nation's youngest ever international footballer.
Coetzee has always had the potential to succeed having been a product of the Ajax academy in Cape Town. Their Amsterdam counterparts have sent scouts to watch him on a number of occasions and it's likely that he will be moving to Europe sooner rather than later. Ajax Cape Town has already rejected advances of a number of domestic clubs stating categorically that Coetzee will eventually move to Europe.
The young centre-back is equally adept with both feet and has good technique for a defender. He's relatively comfortable on the ball and has a decent turn of pace which helps him not get caught out. Coetzee is also good in the air for someone who is not the tallest when it comes to a centre-back. Bafana Bafana manager Ephrahim Mashaba has already shown his trust on Coetzee and the youngster will have the chance to show his worth in a "Group of Death" facing Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.
NABY KEITA (Guinea)
Naby Keita might only be 19 but he's already carved out an impressive reputation back in his home country of Guinea. Born in Conakry, the youngster moved to France where he eventually made his breakthrough at Istres in Ligue 2. Unfortunately, despite a successful debut campaign during the 2013-14 season, his club were relegated from the second tier.
Keita played 23 times for Istres last season, scoring four goals and providing another seven assists from a variety of positions – either on the wing or as an advanced midfielder. Whilst relegation was disappointing, he nevertheless caught the eye of former Hoffenheim manager, Ralf Rangnick, who is now the sporting director at Red Bull Salzburg. The Austrian champions paid Dh 6.4 million (1.5m) to tempt him away from France.
During the current campaign, Keita has cemented his position as a central midfielder with most of the play built around him; he has played 24 times and already scored his first goal for the club. He also had a brief taste of Champions League football during his side's ill-fated qualification match against Swedish champions, Malmo. It is surely not going to be the last time he plays on that stage.
Despite being 19, Keita has already played eight times for his country and will be an important player if Michel Dussayer's side is to progress from a group which includes Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Mali.
BABA ABDUL RAHMAN (Ghana)
Augsburg's Baba Rahman has been one of the most impressive left-backs in European football this season. Having moved to Germany in 2012, the young Ghana international made his breakthrough at Greuther Furth before joining Bundesliga side Augsburg last summer. Under manager Markus Weinzierl, he has progressed faster than anyone could have imagined.
In 16 starts this season, Rahman has four assists, 4.1 tackles per game (the highest in Bundesliga for any defender), 2.7 interceptions per game (highest in Bundesliga for any full-back), 3.6 clearances per game (second-highest in Bundesliga for a left-backs), 2.9 headers won per game (top 4 in Bundesliga for full-backs) and adds more than one successful dribble a game.
His statistics make him one of the leading lights in an Augsburg team that has impressed in climbing to 6th position in the Bundesliga table at the half-way mark of the season It is without doubt that much bigger clubs are keeping an eye on his progress already.
If Ghana are to progress to the latter stages of the Cup of Nations, then the former national youth-team captain, will have to utilise his strong concentration and array of defensive talents at the tournament to assist Avram Grant's side. His tackling and interceptions will be qualities that will impress on-lookers, which may include scouts from future employers.
BERTRAND TRAORE (Burkina Faso)
Bertrand Traore may not be a familiar name to European football followers. You may be surprised to know that he's a Chelsea footballer. The Premier League policy in recent years has appeared to entail signing some of the most highly rated youngsters in world football, loan them out for a couple of years and then sell off the majority who won't break through the first team setup. This leads to a healthy profit which predominantly assists the club in fulfilling their Financial Fair Play requirements.
Traore officially joined Chelsea at the start of 2014, signing a three-and-a-half year contract. The former Auxerre academy player was immediately loaned to Vitesse, a favorite feeder club of Chelsea's, where he scored three times in only seven starts during the second half of the campaign. This season he has established himself as a first team regular at the Eredivisie club.
Traore is predominantly a right winger who cuts inside, but can easily slot into a central striker's role. He has also played on the opposite wing on occasions. His excellent long-range shooting, as well as strength in the air, make him a constant threat in the opposition box, leading to four goals and one assist from 13 starts this season.
Furthermore, Traore has strong ball-retention skills and has excellent vision in picking out a key pass. His 3.1 shots per game is an impressive tally for a wide player, and coupled with 1.2 key passes per game he remains one of the most dangerous emerging wide players in Europe. It is yet to be seen whether he will ever be good enough to be retained by Chelsea but it's probably more likely that a significant transfer fee will lead to a transfer to another club in Europe.
Before that happens he will be looking to help Burkina Faso at least make it to the quarter-finals of the Cup of Nations this month.
FAKHEREEDINE BEN YOUSSEF (Tunisia)
Twenty-three-year-old Fakhreddine Ben Youssef will be making his second Cup of Nations appearance at the tournament in Equatorial Guines. He made his international debut for Tunisia in 2012 and has since played 21 times, scoring three goals. The dizzy-dribbler predominantly plays on the right wing for club and country but is more than capable of leading the line as a central striker too. A product of Tunisian club CS Sfaxien's academy, he is about to venture onto foreign soil for the first time with French club Metz, who have just completed his transfer before a ball has been kicked at the tournament.
Ben Youssef had already scored five goals and provided two assists (in 12 matches) during the first half of the campaign for his Tunisian club. Metz, who currently lie just outside the relegation zone in Ligue 1, will be hoping that their striker will be ready to slot into the first team after a successful Cup of Nations tournament. His Dh 4.3 million (1m euro) transfer fee is sure to be dwarfed by any future fee Metz receive if he lives up to his undoubted potential.
Ben Youssef is predominantly right footed but also has a strong shot on his left foot. The ginger-haired forward is a player that will be easily recognizable when his country takes on Cape Verde, DR Congo and Zambia as Tunisia aim to bring home a trophy they last won in 2004.
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