Although the likes of Didier Drogba, Emmanuel Adebayor and John Obi Mikel have been the focus of the majority of headlines at the 29th edition CAF Africa Cup of Nations, a number of previously unheralded players have grabbed their fair share of the spotlight. FIFA.com looks at some of the up-and-comers who have used the tournament to showcase their talents.
Djene Dakonam (Togo)
One of the surprises of the tournament, Togo's Sparrow Hawks mainly consist of foreign-based professionals, and the 21-year-old Dakonam is one of the few players in the squad plying their trade in Africa. The Coton Sport de Garoua defender usually plays on the right for his club in Cameroon but was used on the opposite flank by Togo's coach Didier, and he proved himself to be convincing, quick and skilled despite only starting his national team career late last year.
Fatawu Dauda (Ghana)
The 27-year-old goalkeeper is one of four Ghana-based players in the Black Stars squad in South Africa. Widely expected to be a third-choice behind Adam Larsen Kwarasey and Daniel Adjei, the Ashanti Gold custodian has moved ahead in the pecking order as Ghana advanced into the semi-finals. Dauda picked up a man-of-the match award in his side's quarter-final victory against Cape Verde Islands and remarked to journalists that he hoped to keep the number one jersey. "I am not saying I am better than the other goalkeepers but in football it's about who gets selected, and so I want to keep the faith of the coach," he said.
Dean Furman (South Africa)
After being overlooked by Gordon Igesund for the hosts' opening Group A game against Cape Verde, the Bafana Bafana coach picked the 24-year-old for their all-important second clash against Angola. Furman was outstanding, taking on responsibility and looking for the ball. Three days later, Furman helped the hosts into the quarter-finals with a 2-2 draw against Morocco. It was an excellent day for the central midfielder as his English League One club Oldham Athletic beat Premier League club Liverpool in the FA Cup. A missed penalty in the shoot-out in Bafana Bafana's defeat against Mali did little to take away the shine from Furman's Africa Cup of Nations campaign.
Sunday Mba (Nigeria)
Although mainly used so far as a bit-player by coach Stephen Keshi, the midfielder managed to make an impact when brought on. Mba, who plays for Enugu Rangers in the Nigerian first division, played in just two games, but he scored one of the goals of the event: the all-important winner against pre-tournament favourites Côte d'Ivoire, which showed confidence and skill against the veteran Ivorian defence. Although the shot was aided by a deflection, the 24-year-old is one of the most promising Africa-based players on show in South Africa and he’s validated Keshi’s choice of several domestic-based players.
Ryan Mendes (Cape Verde Islands)
Not exactly an unknown entity coming into the tournament, having already gained UEFA Champions League experience with Lille, but the 23-year-old forward confirmed his reputation as a star-in-the-making as the key man in attack for the islanders. He is consistent and pacy and played a large part in helping the Blue Sharks to a surprising quarter-final berth.
Godfrey Oboabona & Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria)
Another pair that raised some eyebrows in Keshi’s direction when he included the inexperienced and young defenders in his squad for the finals. But the 22-year-old Oboabona, who plays for Sunshine Stars in the Nigerian league, and Omeruo, a 19-year-old on loan at ADO Den Haag in the Netherlands from Premier League giants Chelsea, have seen plenty of match-time, while captain Joseph Yobo has spent most of his time on the bench. Keshi has said that the defenders have done well. "Part of my job is to make choices. If I took these young players, it is because I thought they were able to do well on the pitch. We have enough more experienced players to give the advice."
Thuso Phala (South Africa)
The right winger was brought into the *Bafana *set-up by Igesund and was picked ahead of more experienced players, and he played an important role as the hosts progressed to the quarter-final stage for the first time at the AFCON finals since 2002. The 26-year-old plays his club football for Platinum Stars after having previously been on the books of South African glamour clubs Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns.
Molla Wague (Mali)
The inclusion of the 21-year-old, who was born and played at youth level for France, into Patrice Carteron's squad for the AFCON finals, was a big surprise. However, the Caen defender has been outstanding in defence and has formed a formidable duo with team-mate Adama Coulibaly. The Eagles have conceded just three goals in the tournament ahead of the semi-finals.
Mubarak Wakaso (Ghana)
After convincingly progressing through the group phase, Ghana's Black Stars came up against rookies Cape Verde and - rather surprisingly - the rookies were making most of the play in the early part of the game. Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah brought on Wakaso, and the 22-year-old left midfielder, who plays his club football for Espanyol Barcelona, repaid his coach's confidence in him by scoring twice. His three goals in three matches at the tournament - two from the spot - make him arguably the most efficient player of the tournament.