AFCON 2017: Ghana cup jinx endures
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will lead host nation Gabon’s bid to win the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. Scroll through the gallery to see some of the tournament’s key players …
Wilfried Bony, Ivory Coast: The forward played a key role in Les Éléphants’ triumph in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, with two headers in a quarterfinal win over Algeria. With the international retirement of Yaya Toure, the 28-year-old Manchester City striker — on loan to Stoke City — assumes the role of team leader for the tournament’s favorite.
Cheikhou Kouyate, Senegal: The 27-year-old rock of West Ham’s midfield can score goals when called upon — including the Hammers’ first-ever goal at the Olympic Stadium this season. Senegal’s towering 6-foot 4-inch team captain played in the 2015 Cup of Nations as well as the 2012 Olympics.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabon: Borussia Dortmund’s striker is famous for his Usain Bolt-like bursts of speed — as well as his superhero goal celebrations — and is one of the bona fide global stars of the tournament. The French-born 27-year-old is averaging nearly a goal per game in the Bundesliga this season, but he will have to match that pace if the hosts are to advance deep into the tournament.
Karim El Ahmadi, Morocco: Thirty-one-year-old defensive midfielder El Ahmadi is one of a few veteran players on a young Moroccan team. The Dutch-born player is now in his second spell with Feyenoord after two years in the Premier League with Aston Villa, and will be called to anchor the spine of the Atlas Lions.
Adama Traore, Mali: The 21-year-old Monaco midfielder has very little experience at club and senior international level. However, he was named player of the tournament at the 2015 Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand behind his four goals and three assists. Should he be given a chance, Traore could prove a surprise in Gabon.
Franck Kessie, Ivory Coast: The 20-year-old midfielder might return from AFCON having swapped current Italian club side Atalanta for a European heavyweight, with Chelsea having reportedly had a big bid rejected for him, according to the player’s agent. Kessie has six goals in 16 games for Atalanta so far this season and his all-action style has drawn comparisons with compatriot Yaya Toure, who has now retired from international football.
Aymen Abdennour, Tunisia: Although central defender Abdennour (left, with teammate Anis Ben Hatira) is the most experienced outfield player for the Eagles, at the age of 27 he’s still in his footballing prime. The former Monaco player signed with Valencia last season as a replacement for Manchester City-bound Nicolás Otamendi.
Bertrand Traore, Burkina Faso: Chelsea forward Traore — on loan at Ajax — made his senior debut for Burkina Faso as a 15-year-old, and will be playing in his third Africa Cup of Nations. Despite limited club appearances, Traore is known for his deft ball skills and has attracted a cult following in Amsterdam.
Michael Azira, Uganda: The Colorado Rapids defender (#42) is one of only a few MLS players participating in Gabon. Azira moved to the US as a 20-year-old college player before signing with the Seattle Sounders and has since moved to the Colorado Rapids. Azira, whose family still lives in Uganda, will be participating in his first tournament for his birth country.
Alaixys Romao, Togo: Before his recent move to Olympiacos, French-born Romao was the lynchpin of Marseille’s midfield. Should current free agent Emmanuel Adebayor not find the net regularly to lift the the Sparrow Hawks in Gabon, Togo will rely heavily on an organized defense led by Romao.