It will be a busy next six months for African football, particularly given the intensity of the final round of qualifiers for next year’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations and the excitement of a new FIFA World Cup™ preliminary campaign. In October, the last ten places in the 16-team field for the continental championship, co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, will be seized, while the following month, the road to Brazil 2014 commences. The Cup of Nations itself kicks off begins on 21 January and ends three weeks later.
Big events bring change, and the established order is under threat, with Egypt and Cameroon already out of the running for the African finals and new heroes emerging across the continent. FIFA.com looks at some of the enchanting players who have come to the fore during 2012 qualifying and could emulate the likes of Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Michael Essien on the path to Brazil 2014.
Mogogi Gabonamong (Botswana): The tough-tackling midfielder provides steel and strength for the biggest surprises in the African game. Based in South Africa with SuperSport United, he made his international debut more than a decade ago as a 16-year-old and is finally going to get a chance to show his ability on a bigger stage when Botswana go to their first-ever continental finals.
Delvin Ndinga (Congo): The CNFF academy in Brazzaville is now six years old and has already produced a number of the players that took Congo to two FIFA youth tournaments. But their biggest achievement has been the discovery of Ndinga, who moved to Auxerre in 2007 and is now key to both club and country. Linked with a number of bigger clubs, Ndinga is a spark for the Red Devils as they try to improve on a poor AFCON qualifying campaign.
Wilfried Bony (Côte d’Ivoire): Formerly a top scorer in the Ivorian league, Bony has broken through to the national team in the absence of Drogba. The 22-year-old went to Europe in 2008 with Sparta Prague, but in January, he made a high-profile move to Vitesse in the Netherlands and has been in fine form since, including scoring a brace for the Elephants against Rwanda at the weekend.
Jordan Ayew (Ghana): The younger brother of South Africa 2010 break-out star Andre Ayew, and son of three-time CAF African Footballer the Year Abedi Pele, the Marseille attacker has all the right footballing genes. He won his first cap last September and is quickly emerging as another potential playmaker for the Black Stars, a side already full of prodigious talent.
Cheikh Diabate (Mali): A product of the Salif Keita academy in Bamako, Diabate moved to France in 2008 and has worked his way up through the ranks and into the first team at Bordeaux. Mali, who are a win away from reaching the 2012 finals, have had plenty of classy midfielders to choose from, but Diabate is emerging as the successor upfront to Frederic Kanoute.
Youseff Al Arabi (Morocco): Such were his goals and promise that the 24-year-old Al Arabi player ignored interest from of a number of European teams to sign for Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal after an impressive start to his career at hometown club Caen. For Morocco, he has emerged as a key attacking figure since making his debut in September of last year, thriving on the confidence handed him by coach Eric Gerets as the Atlas Lions stand on the brink of 2012 qualification.
Moussa Maazou (Niger): Niger are another surprise package to upset the formbook in the Cup of Nations. They have built up momentum since a home victory over Egypt in October when Maazou blasted home a spectacular winner. The burly striker also got the decisive goal at the weekend against South Africa to take his country top of the group.
Joel Obi (Nigeria): The Super Eagles have been searching for several years for a successor to Augustine ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha in the creative department and may well have found the solution in Obi. Touted as an up-and-comer at Inter Milan, Obi made his national team debut this February and is considered a natural partner for Jon Obi Mikel in the middle of the pitch.
Moussa Sow (Senegal): Sow is a candidate for the CAF African Footballer of Year award after winning the French title with Lille, ending Ligue 1 as top scorer and scoring four goals in five matches as Senegal won their Cup of Nations qualifying group in front of Cameroon. Linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe, Sow could be the next superstar for the continent’s passionate fans.
Thulani Serero (South Africa): Diminutive but tricky, Serero was chosen as South Africa’s best player last season. He also earned a move to Ajax and has immediately impressed. For Bafana Bafana the 21-year-old provides the hint of unpredictable genius that coach Pitso Mosimane says he is looking for, and has won three caps since his February debut for the national team.
Knowledge Musona (Zimbabwe): Another 21-year-old attacker, Musona is full of speed and skill and it comes as no great shock that he has moved to one of world football’s top leagues, with Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga after two prolific years in South Africa. He scored three vital goals for his country in the Nations Cup qualifiers - including a brace and the 90th-minute winner in Zimbabwe’s most impressive victory, a 2-1 reverse of Mali.