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These youngsters may outshine the big guns in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea if they maintain their impressive form and grab their opportunities

SPECIAL
By Kingsley Kobo

The 2012 Africa Cup of Nations finals is fast approaching, and there is a sense of anticipation on the continent with regards to the many youngsters who could make a name for themselves at this competition.

Goal.com
presents a list of 10 players under the age of 25 who, if called upon by their respective teams, could become sensations at the 2012 Afcon.
10. MOUSSA MAAZOU (Niger)

The CSKA Moscow player had been the hope of the Mena since 2009 due to his scoring ability and European pedigree, but injuries and administrative issues have led to successive loans to five clubs within the period of three years.

Not being able to settle at any one side, his constant transfers have slowed down his football career and caused the dwindling of optimism about his future back in Niger – a country that will make their first Africa Cup of Nations appearance.

Maazou says he will strive to earn back the time and popularity he has lost at the Afcon in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.



9. SADIO DIALLO (Guinea)

Sadio Diallo is a rising star in his native country, Guinea. After scoring 10 goals in 37 games with French Ligue 2 side SC Bastia, he was called up to the Syli National, playing the 2012 Afcon qualifiers and scoring two goals during his four appearances.

His technical and aerial ability is certainly impressive, and those attributes make him a dangerous player to mark for opposition defenders.

The starlet will turn 21 years old shortly before the finals, and he will be hoping to make the difference for his national team in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, after the Guineans qualified ahead of the much favoured Nigerians.




8. EMMANUEL MAYUKA (Zambia)

The 20-year-old Young Boys striker received his first call-up to the Zambian team in 2007 during the Cosafa Cup, but he is yet to score his first goal for the Chipolopolo having earned more than 20 caps.

Despite this strange statistic, he remains a fine player with a very bright future, and he has scored more than 16 goals since arriving at his Swiss club.

The 2012 Afcon is an occasion for him to show what he can do, and if the Chipolopolo are to make their mark on the tournament, he could be one of their main protagonists. There would be no bigger stage on which to score his first goal.



7. PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (Gabon)

Born in France, 22-year-old striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joined the AC Milan youth team in 2007 before he was loaned to French club Saint Etienne in order to gain experience and playing time.

He has appeared once with the French Under-21 team, but opted to dedicate his senior international career to the Panthers of Gabon. The striker has scored five goals for his national team in 19 games.

He will be eager to show off in front of his home fans during the tournament, and his efforts could lead to his rise in football circles, where the Rossoneri are likely to be following developments in the competition with interest.




6. AMINE CHERMITI (Tunisia)

The 23-year-old plays his club football in attack for FC Zurich. He is adept at evading his markers with pace and close control, while his finishing is consistent and accurate.

The talented Chermiti has already appeared 22 times for Tunisia, scoring four goals and putting in a number of impressive performances for the Carthage Eagles.

He is one of the youngest attackers in the Tunisia squad, and has high ambitions to grow into a shining star for his country, but the 2012 Afcon could prove to be his launching pad.



5. CHEICK DIABATE (Mali)

Groomed at Mali’s renowned and dynamic Centre Salif Keita, where Barcelona’s Seydou Keita graduated, 23-year-old Cheick Diabate moved to France in order to sign a contract with Bordeaux in 2008.

He received his first call-up to the Eagles in 2008 and has appeared 13 times, scoring six goals including four in the 2012 Afcon qualifying campaign.

Diabate fits well into a Malian team that mostly depends on collective play rather than individual stars, but he has also evinced the zeal to stand out among his peers on many occasions when representing his nation, and will certainly be one to watch in the finals.


4. ADEL TAARABT (Morocco)

The versatile attacking midfielder and winger exudes much confidence on the pitch, which is bolstered by his thorough concentration and game-reading ability.

A star for QPR in their promotion to the Premier League, the 22-year-old has been a force for the English side during his time with the club, and will be aiming to help Morocco in their quest to lift the 2012 Nations Cup.

He has played 12 matches for the Lions of the Atlas, scoring four goals and delivering dozens of laudable assists. Playing with the in-form Morocco team, Taarabt will have the chance to display his skills for pundits to appraise.


3. ALAIN TRAORE (Burkina Faso)

The 22-year-old Auxerre midfielder was at the summit of the French Ligue 1 top-scorer charts for much of this season, and he will almost certainly still be in the running come the end of the campaign.

His passing ability and positioning make him a valuable player, both at creating assists for his team-mates and finishing opportunities in front of goal.

He was among the top scorers of the 2012 Afcon qualifiers with four goals, and at a recent press conference he revealed, “I will do more to stand out at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, for my country and for myself.” We will soon find out how determined he is to shine for Burkina Faso.



2. EMMANUEL AGYEMANG BADU (Ghana)

The 20-year-old Udinese player is a solid defensive midfielder with a robust physical presence, impressive stamina, fine marking ability, and a high work-rate in training and matches.

These attributes have earned him spots in the Ghana U20 and U23 squads, as well as over 10 appearances with the senior national team since his debut in 2008.

If he plays for the Black Stars at the tournament, he may take his chance to shine and become another darling within the Ghanaian team and a favourite among African fans all over the football-mad continent. A bright future awaits him.



1. BONY WILFRIED (Cote D'Ivoire)

The 22-year-old Vitesse Arnhem forward scored 22 goals in 59 games at Sparta Prague before moving to the Dutch club last January, where he quickly opened his account, reaching double digits with his scoring tally.

Considering the three goals already scored in only six caps with the Elephants – across the 2012 Afcon qualifiers – Bony could sharpen the Ivorian attacking line at a time when the absence of Didier Drogba keeps hampering the scoring capabilities of the team.

He will certainly be a player to watch in the future, and Ivorian football fans will be expecting him to make some waves at the 2012 Afcon in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.




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