The 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations comes just one year after the last finals because of a switch in the future dates and it means there is a familiar look about many of the players chosen to compete in the tournament in South Africa. But, as is always the case, there will be some new stars to look out for, and this edition promises to unveil potential new heroes for fanatical African fans to enthuse over. FIFA.com profiles the new young stars to look out for at the CAN.
Christian Atsu (Ghana)
Ghana have produced more than their fair share of teenage prodigies in recent times and the 20-year-old from Porto is the latest off their fabled production line. The winger is already a sensation in Portugal where comparisons are being made with Lionel Messi, perhaps a little prematurely, but flattering nevertheless. He enjoys the left side of the attack and could be the man to watch out for replacing Andre Ayew and possibly cementing a starting line-up berth for the Black Stars. Originally from Kasoa in southern Ghana, he was picked up early by Porto, who have nurtured him through their youth ranks and on loan to Rio Ave last season.
Faouzi Ghoulam (Algeria)
The 21-year-old defender has had stellar league campaign with St Etienne this season and is the latest French-born player to be persuaded to Algeria’s cause – after playing at youth level for France. He was selected to the Algeria squad for the tournament without winning a cap and will go into the finals with little international experience but plenty of exposure to some of the top strikers in France. He will also be closely watched as the transfer speculation around the left back has been quiet vociferous. Both his parents come from Algeria and sporting genes run deep in the family because his elder brother Nabil ran for France at the World Cross Country Championships.
Abdelhamid El Kaoutari (Morocco)
It is hard to expect 2013 will be better than last year for the 22-year-old defender, who won Ligue 1 with home town club Montpellier and went to the Olympic Games in London with Morocco’s under-23 side. El Kaoutari is a product of the French provincial club, who won a first-ever French championship last season, and came through their famous youth system to forge a place in the starting line-up while still a teenager. He played at the UEFA U-19 Championships in 2009 for France but then switched his allegiance to the country of his parent’s birth and won his first cap 18 months ago.
Ryan Mendes (Cape Verde Islands)
After several seasons impressing with his pace and ability to run at opposing defenders in Ligue 2, Mendes moved in July to Lille and a chance to play in the top flight of French football. It has been a heady time for the winger from the tiny island of Fogo, whose path to club football in Europe came after being spotted in a youth tournament. He was just 18 when he played in the event at Le Havre and found himself being chased by scouts and agents. He signed for Le Havre but not before having a talk with a representative of Portugal’s Benfica, who are the best supported side in the Cape Verde. Three seasons at Le Havre made his reputation before Lille coach Rudi Garcia snapped him up. Mendes was the top scorer for the Blue Sharks in AFCON qualifiers.
Abdelkader Oueslati (Tunisia)
The 21-year-old winger won his first cap in the decisive qualifying game for the 2013 Nations Cup finals, impressing enough to earn a place in the squad for the tournament in South Africa. Born in France, he has come through the ranks at Atletico Madrid where he played first with the B team before being promoted to the first squad this season where he made his debut in August against Levante, before suffering a fracture that sidelined him for two months. In Spain, he is known simply as ‘Kader’ and is being tipped as a name for the future.
Thulani Serero (South Africa)
The diminutive 22-year-old midfielder is just back from a groin injury that has stymied his season so far. He moved to Ajax Amsterdam in mid-2011 after being voted the best player in the South African Premier Soccer League. But his first season in the Dutch league saw him get limited playing time as he struggled with adaptation, form and injury. The new campaign began brightly however as he got among the goals early only to suffer another setback. Coach Gordon Igesund is taking a gamble on his fitness but insists Serero is a viable and valuable option, even if operating at “60 per-cent of his potential”. He has eight caps, but only one in a competitive international.