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Without Drogba and Eto’o, African Cup ready for new stars

For the first time in more than a decade, both of Africa’s most celebrated players will be missing from the African Cup of Nations

Published: Updated:

There will be no Didier Drogba and no Samuel Eto’o.

For the first time in more than a decade, both of Africa’s most celebrated players will be missing from the African Cup of Nations after retiring from international soccer.

It’s a chance for other players to make their mark at the continent’s top tournament. Here are some names to look out for in Equatorial Guinea over the next three weeks:

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Yacine Brahimi (midfielder), Algeria:

 Yacine Brahimi  AFP AFCON
Yacine Brahimi AFP AFCON


The attacking midfielder is adored in Algeria, not least for ultimately choosing the country of his immigrant parents over his country of birth, France. Brahimi is Algeria’s playmaker. Much of its hopes of living up to its top-ranking in Africa and winning the title for the first time in 25 years rests on the FC Porto player’s shoulders - and his combination with Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli and Sporting Lisbon’s Islam Slimani, Algeria’s so-called "golden trio." Brahimi represented France’s youth teams for six years before switching to Algeria. He was Algeria’s top scorer in African Cup qualifying, and his dribbling skills and clever passing creates goals for others, too. His 25th birthday is the day of the final.

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Wilfried Bony (striker), Ivory Coast:

Wilfried Bony AFP AFCON
Wilfried Bony AFP AFCON


Bony may be even more important to Ivory Coast than midfielder Yaya Toure. Without Drogba, Bony could emerge as the Ivorians’ new No. 1 striker at the African Cup following his stellar year in 2014 with Swansea in the Premier League. Bony scored more goals than any other player in the league last year and could shoot the Ivorians to victory in Equatorial Guinea if he keeps that form going in January and February.

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Fabrice Ondoa (goalkeeper), Cameroon:

Fabrice Ondoa Reuters AFCON
Fabrice Ondoa Reuters AFCON


Watch out for Cameroon’s teenage goalkeeper. A product of the Eto’o academy in Yaounde, the 19-year-old Ondoa is now part of the reserve team at Barcelona, which he joined when he was 13. Following a disastrous World Cup for Cameroon, coach Volker Finke gave Ondoa his national team debut in the final round of African Cup qualifying last year. Ondoa responded by conceding only one goal in six games as Cameroon won its group.

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Vincent Aboubakar (striker), Cameroon:

Vincent Aboubakar AFP AFCON
Vincent Aboubakar AFP AFCON


Cameroon has a new striker, too: Aboubakar has emerged as the likely successor to Eto’o. Tall and quick, Aboubakar has the natural qualities that make him very difficult for defenders to stop. But he also has impressive ball skills and a deadly right foot from close range.

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Sadio Mane (midfielder), Senegal:

Sadio Mane AFP AFCON
Sadio Mane AFP AFCON


The question surrounding Sadio Mane is if he will play. Ruled out of the African Cup with a leg injury by his English club Southampton, Senegal coach Alain Giresse has still picked Mane in his final squad in the hope that he will recover. Mane is a pivotal figure for a new-look Senegal team as an energetic midfielder with a habit of scoring valuable goals.

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Seydou Keita (midfielder), Mali:

Seydou Keita AFP AFCON
Seydou Keita AFP AFCON


Keita turns 35 a day before the African Cup kicks off, and is back for what might be his last attempt at winning the tournament. Keita was the driving force behind Mali’s near misses in 2012 and 2013, when the team lost in the semifinals and finished third on both occasions. Used more off the bench now, the former Barcelona player has vast experience in six previous African Cups. Mali may need his calming influence in the center of midfield as they face Cameroon and Ivory Coast in the group stage.