5 Young Players to Watch at the African Cup of Nations 2015


With Africa’s premier continental competition upon us, Sami Faizullah has a look at 5 young players (aged 22 and below during the start of the tournament) that could make an impact.

African Cup of Nations 2015

Often described as the hotbed of footballing talent, the AFCON represents an opportunity for the world to cast their views on the footballing talents of the vast African continent. Though plenty of the participants venture into Europe fairly early, many escape the popular views despite playing in some of the more established leagues. The African Cup of Nations provides a platform to see the beauty the continent has to present.

The following five young players stand-out among the 16 participating nations who could make an impact in Equatorial Guinea. Talent Radar will certainly be keeping a keen eye, and you should to!


ABDUL  RAHMAN  BABA


GHANA  |  20  |  LEFT-BACK  |  FC AUGSBURG

Who? The Ghanain has been impressing viewers in the Bundesliga with the leagues surprise package, FC Augsburg, showcasing professionalism and intelligence in his role at left-back. He was a part of our Talent Radar 100 Young Players to Watch in 2015.

Why? With a possible 3-5-2 formation expected to be displayed by Avram Grant’s Ghana, the onus is firmly on the full-backs to ensure the success of the approach. Baba will be deployed on the left side with the expected formation maximising the 20-year-old’s ability as he looks to constantly switch between attacking and defensive phases. His runs down the flank mirror that of a winger, with quality crossing to go with it, but his willingness to commit into tackles (sometimes over-commit), allow him to function as a vital cog in the system.

Expectation (Team): The decision to appoint Avram Grant weeks before the tournament was met with understandable surprise. The Israeli hasn’t been in active coaching for nearly three years with his only national team job being back home some 9 years ago. With a difficult group and a mind-boggling coaching decision by the board, the Black Stars may well disappoint at the AFCON.


CHANCEL  MBEMBA


DR CONGO  |  20  |  CENTRE-BACK  |  ANDERLECHT

Who? Part of Anderlecht’s youthful and successful side, Mbemba is one of the 6 Belgium based players in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s AFCON side, and arguably one of the best defenders in the whole tournament. He was a part of our Talent Radar 100 Young Players to Watch in 2015 (and the 2014 list as well).

Why? A solid body structure to boast with his contribution to the attacking side as well, Mbemba is the definition of a ‘beast of a defender’. While not the most tactically intelligent, he more than makes up for it with spectacular tackles and last ditch challenges. He can shackle a forward and dampen his game, but he may struggle slightly to smartly mark; again, not something that necessarily holds him back. But the biggest stand-out point of Mbemba is his ability going forward, while he’s a genuine threat in the air and with the use of his strength, he is remarkably composed on the ball, keeping up with the modern times of a ball-playing defender.

Expectation (Team): Though DR Congo aren’t one of the stronger African footballing nations, the groups set are such which makes qualification to the next round a reachable target. With Group A (along with Group B) also lacking a solid favourite, DR Congo might just prove to be the surprise package of the AFCON.


FABRICE  ONDOA


CAMEROON  |  19  |  GOALKEEPER  |  BARCELONA B

Who? Having come through from the Samuel Eto’o Football Academy in Cameroon, and continued his development at the famed La Masia academy in Barcelona, there are very few scenarios that could have been better for a players’ footballing education than the one experienced by Ondoa.

Why? The goalkeeping position has been a bit of a struggle for Cameroon, which ultimately led German coach Volker Finke to give then 18-year-old Fabrice Ondoa, an opportunity. The teenager didn’t disappoint after debuting against Ivory Coast in a 4-1 win at the qualifiers for this tournament. The Barcelona B man is now full of confidence, with his manager’s backing, as he leads the traditional powerhouses of African football as the first choice keeper. Having learnt from arguably the world’s best coaches and systems, the World is eagerly awaiting to see just what the academy has produced.

Expectation (Team): A side struggling to regain the highs they’ve experienced in the past, with only a slight crawl being displayed in recent times back to that summit, expectations are high for the four time African champions despite a tricky group to navigate. Though progression from the group stage was usually a given, this time it might be a bit surprising but it would be the bare minimum expected.


NABIL  BENTALEB


ALGERIA  |  20  |  MIDFIELDER  |  TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Who? Having opted to represent the country of his parents as opposed to that of his birth (France) a few months back, Bentaleb has seen his domestic and international career grow. With opportunities at Spurs aplenty, international recognition is at it’s peak having appeared at the World Cup as well.

Why? The 20-year-old represents an upcoming breed of the Algerian diaspora, setting the country apart from much of Africa. Given his roots, Nabil Bentaleb has developed within a European football upbringing, and this displays in his football. A more tactical intelligence often lost in young African midfielders is ever-present in the Spurs youngster. With his neat and tidy on the ball control further assisting his overall footballing ability. It’s this European intelligence that’ll help Bentaleb reach new highs at the African Cup of Nations, with the pressure something to be dealt with it.

Expectation (Team): Facing some stiff challenge in a competitive group, Algeria won’t have it easy. But having been the most impressive African side and a rare opposition that actually looked capable of getting one over eventual champions Germany at the World Cup, anything less than a last four berth will be a bitter disappointment. With their only African triumph going back 25 years, we may well see a desire from the North African nation to emerge victorious.


VINCENT  ABOUBAKAR


CAMEROON  |  22  |  STRIKER  |  PORTO

Who? Having been one of Ligue 1’s most prolific strikers in his last season in France, Aboubakar developed a solid reputation which attracted the interests of FC Porto. But the Cameroonian hasn’t lived up to similar expectation, his weaknesses exposed but a stronger belief in getting it right at Africa’s biggest stage.

Why? Even when Aboubakar was in form with Lorient in France, there were some who didn’t cave into his hype, with their opinion proving to hold true in hindsight. But the 22-year-old still has a large part of his career ahead of him, a chance to prove his doubters (particularly in Portugal) wrong and an opportunity once again to showcase the endearing combination of power, pace and strength. Aboubakar can best be described as a raw goal-scorer, and Finke’s Cameroon will need plenty of it if they are to meet their objectives.

Expectation (Team): A side struggling to regain the highs they’ve experienced in the past, with only a slight crawl being displayed in recent times back to that summit, expectations are high for the four time African champions despite a tricky group to navigate. Though progression from the group stage was usually a given, this time it might be a bit surprising but it would be the bare minimum expected.


Written by Sami Faizullah

Sami Faizullah

Sami Faizullah

Co-founder and Chief Editor here. Obsessed with tactics. Keen follower of young players. Creator of #TalentRadar. Appeared in A Football Report's list of "Best in Football Writing 2012".
Sami Faizullah