Ivory Coast may head into the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations as the 3/1 favourites to lift the trophy under Herve Renard but as the former Zambia coach himself knows all too well this is a tournament that’s always thrown up surprises.
With holders Nigeria not even qualifying it’s a relatively open field with the Elephants current front-runners but without an AFCON title to their name in over 20 years.
One thing is for sure: a few heroes will emerge for their respective nations and ahead of the tournaments curtain-raiser between hosts Equatorial Guinea and Congo we’ve picked out five players with the pedigree to one day light up the Premier League.
Bakary Kone – Burkina Faso
Part of a Lyon team currently leading the way in Ligue 1, Kone may have been forced to play a bit-part role for Les Gones this term but he remains a solid operator and was a key component of Burkina Faso’s surprise march to the final of the competition last year.
Linked with a Newcastle move a couple of years back, the 26-year-old defender’s fine aerial ability coupled with an excellent passing range means he could well thrive in the English top-flight if given the chance.
Max Gradel – Ivory Coast
Another African star impressing in France, Gradel will be familiar to fans of both Leicester City and Leeds United, having spent time at both clubs prior to joining Ligue 1 sleeping giants St Etienne.
A tricky winger by trade, the 27-year-old may have shone most at Leeds but it’s the Foxes who are apparently keen on bringing the player back to England following a spell across the channel in which he has played 64 games for Les Verts, scoring 14 goals and laying on countless more.
Islam Slimani – Algeria
The Desert Foxes’ undoubted star of the 2014 World Cup, Slimani scored twice in Brazil as Algeria progressed to the knockout phase of the tournament for the first time in their history.
Dubbed Super Slim by fans of his current club Sporting Lisbon, the 26-year-old’s habit of scoring important goals has made him something of a fan favourite while the likes of Newcastle, West Ham and Stoke were all linked with moves to the Algerian Footballer of the Year over the summer.
Nicolas N’Koulou – Cameroon
When it comes to unearthing African football talent it would appear that France is the place to go and Marseille defender N’Koulou is no exception, having impressed for L’OM under Marcelo Bielsa this season.
Only 24, the former AS Monaco stopper was one of the few to impress for the Indomitable Lions at the World Cup. Arsenal were linked with a move for the Marseille star while, more recently, West Ham were thought to be weighing up amove for the defender as a replacement for Winston Reid.
Wahbi Khazri – Tunisia
Tunisia’s secret weapon at the tournament, this highly-versatile 23-year-old attacking midfielder is the perfect mix of skill and speed and likes nothing more than dribbling at opposition defenders and shooting from distance when the occasion calls for it.
A Bastia player from 2009 to 2014, during which time Blackburn were thought to be keen on a move, the youngster may have only just signed for Bordeaux but he looks destined for bigger things having scored five goals in 18 appearances for his new club.
With six goals in 13 appearances for Tunisia he could be the man to help the Eagles of Carthage more than live up to their tag as tournament dark horses.
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