Africa Cup Of Nations 2012: Player Profiles

In the build-up to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, we'll be profiling some of the best-known players in the tournament, as well as some lesser-known players looking to guide their teams to upsets and become stars.

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Africa Cup Of Nations 2012 Player Profiles: Jordan Ayew

Jordan Ayew's brother Andre Ayew has played for the full Marseille and Ghana side since 2007, and since he broke through, we've known about his equally talented younger brother who was on his way through the ranks. Jordan is just 20-years-old, but it feels like he's been lingering around in world football forever. This Africa Cup of Nations could mark the first time that he becomes a key contributor for the Black Stars, especially with Asamoah Gyan out of the Premier League and just now coming back to full fitness.

By virtue of having a brother who is one of the team's key players, Jordan Ayew is always going to have to deal with comparisons. He can play across the forward line like his brother, but Andre is more of a natural winger than anything else, while Jordan is closer to being a true center forward. This means that they can co-exist in the Ghanaian starting XI, whether that be with Samuel Inkoom, Asamoah Gyan or Prince Tagoe as the third forward.

Form and opposition will cause the forward line to shift throughout the tournament for Ghana, but expect Jordan Ayew to start the team's first game up top, simply because Gyan has only recently recovered from a hamstring problem and is yet to play a competitive football match since recovering from that injury. Ayew will have to perform well to keep his place, but there's no reason to believe he won't do so with the average defenses Ghana is facing in the group stage and the talent around him.

Jordan Ayew started the year making mostly late substitute appearances for Marseille, but began to make regular starts in the middle of October while the team was struggling in the league and needed a serious change. Since then, he's tallied three goals and three assists for his club and has linked up very well with his brother. Meanwhile, Tagoe has struggled, possibly giving Ayew the upper hand in gaining a starting position.

Kwadwo Asamoah and Andre Ayew will be the focal points of the Ghanaian national team at the Africa Cup of Nations, but the club and fitness situations of Tagoe and Gyan mean that Jordan Ayew will get an opportunity to play. If he impresses, he could potentially hold down a starting forward spot for a decade.

Jordan Ayew

National Team: Ghana

Club Team: Marseille (France)

Age: 20

Position: Forward

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Africa Cup Of Nations 2012 Player Profiles: Mehdi Benatia

For the second straight season, Udinese is competing for a UEFA Champions League place despite not having very much money to spend. Their highest profile departure in 2011 was Alexis Sanchez, the Zebrette also lost Cristian Zapata. This required the members of the Udinese back line to step up their games, and Mehdi Benatia has done just that.

Benatia is a quintessential example of the Udinese transfer policy and how they've built a Champions League-quality squad on a small budget. He was purchased from Ligue 2 side Clermont, who he joined after coming up through the Marseille youth team, in 2009. He was loaned back to Clermont and spent another season in Ligue 2 before joining Udinese in Serie A.

After a solid first season with Udinese in 2010-11, Benatia is having the best season if his career at present and is one of the key contributors to Udinese's current third placed standing in Serie A. As the right central defender in Udinese's 3-5-1-1, he is responsible for keeping an eye on forwards and covering the right flank when Dusan Basta and/or Maurcio Isla gets caught too far up the pitch. His positioning and technical ability for a big defender are fantastic, and are just as key to his national team as his club team.

Morocco play a different formation than Udinese, though their style of football is relatively similar. Though he is a defender for both sides, the right central defender position in Udinese's three-man back line is much different than the right central defender position in Morocco's traditional back four. He will have more overall responsibility and less cover when it comes to accounting for opposing forwards, but will not have the same requirements when it comes to technical play and covering the flank.

Benatia and Morocco were very good in qualifying and most of this team has played together, so there is no reason to believe that he will have trouble adjusting to playing a different position with his national team. His defensive partner Badr El Kaddouri did not play particularly well during his time at Celtic in 2011, but has plenty of experience with Dynamo Kiev and the national team, and they make up one of the best central defense partnerships in Africa.

Morocco will be favorites to win their group, and if they do so, favorites to get to the semifinals where they would likely meet Cote D'Ivoire. The Lions of the Atlas are very strong in midfield and attack, so it's unlikely that there will be massive demands on Benatia until they hit that semifinal. Issam Jemaa of Tunisia could give him problems, but he could look dominant until he comes up against Didier Drogba.

Mehdi Benatia

National Team: Morocco

Club Team: Udinese (Italy)

Age: 24

Position: Defender

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Africa Cup Of Nations 2012 Player Profiles: Djalma Campos

Djalma has struggled to find a regular first team place at Porto since making his move from Maritimo, where he was a star performer, but it appears that he's finally found a place under manager Vítor Pereira. Struggling without the departed Radamel Falcao, Pereira made a change to his team in November, moving Hulk inside from a right forward position. This has opened up an opportunity for Djalma, who is finally getting playing time for the Dragons.

His national side, Angola, have drawn a difficult group in the Africa Cup of Nations and will need spectacular performances from their forwards to progress, considering the lack of depth in the rest of their team and the quality of their opponents. Cote D'Ivoire are the obvious Group B favorites, but Angola will also struggle to get past Burkina Faso, who are very deep and talented throughout their roster.

Manager Lito Vidigal has used a number of different formations, while Djalma has played multiple roles for Angola, so it's tough to put him into a set position. He could play as a striker, a right forward, a right midfielder or a No. 10 depending on how the team sets up. Expect to see much less of -- if not none of -- Angola playing with three at the back than in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.

Djalma's most likely role is on the right side of a 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 formation. The team has too much talent up top and too little talent in the center of midfield to do anything but play two strikers, which might lead to Djalma having more defensive responsibility in this tournament than he does for Porto, but his main role will be to create chances for his teammates from the right wing. Flavio and Manucho are good finishers with very good scoring records. They just need players like Djalma and the likely left-wing starter Gilberto to get them the ball.

Djalma Campos

National Team: Angola

Club Team: FC Porto (Portugal)

Age: 24

Position: Winger

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Africa Cup Of Nations 2012 Player Profiles: Seydou Doumbia

Seydou Doumbia has done nothing but score goals for the last three and a half years and now he'll look to carry that goal scoring streak into the Africa Cup of Nations

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Africa Cup Of Nations 2012 Player Profiles: Seydou Keita

With several top players no longer a part of the team, Mali will lean heavily on Seydou Keita as they look to make a run at the Africa Cup of Nations

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Africa Cup Of Nations 2012 Player Profiles: Kwadwo Asamoah

Kwadwo Asamoah has flown under the radar at Udinese, but he's emerged as one of Serie A's top midfielders and intends to show why at the Africa Cup of Nations

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Africa Cup Of Nations 2012 Player Profiles: Emmanuel Mayuka

Emmanuel Mayuka isn't a star on the level of the biggest names playing for Ghana or Cote D'Ivoire, by any stretch of the imagination. He is, however, a player with a great goal-scoring record and arguably the most talented player on a team that is favored to qualify for the knockout stages. Mayuka is just 21-years-old and extremely versatile. He's playing at a high level, but out of the world spotlight.

These are the players who used to be the story of the Africa Cup of Nations. There are still some up-and-coming players who will make names for themselves in this year's tournament, but they are much more few and far between than they were just four years ago. Not just the stars, but the important role players on most of the big teams have already established themselves. Professional scouts in the big leagues were aware of them before the general public.

Mayuka is certainly one of those players, and with all due respect to Young Boys Bern and their fans, he's likely to move on to a bigger club soon if he plays well in this tournament and in the second half of the Swiss Super League season. He has an excellent scoring record of 33 goals in 85 league games between the Swiss Super League and Israeli Premier League, in his time with Young Boys and Maccabi Tel-Aviv. He's also scored regularly in the Europa League, and has proven adept at playing both as a forward and on the wing.

Based on who he replaced, it seems like Young Boys knows how to spot young strikers with lethal finishing ability who are flying under the radar of Europe's giants. Mayuka was brought in for $1.7 million to replace Seydou Doumbia, who has become one of the best strikers in the Russian Premier League with CSKA Moscow, as well as a regular for the Ivory Coast. While Mayuka isn't quite as lethal as Doumbia at this point in his career, he's probably still in the process of improving as a player. When Young Boys sells him, they'll make a healthy profit.

Mayuka scored three goals in qualifying and his team will need him to score a couple of times in the group stages if they want to advance. Zambia do not have anywhere near the firepower of Group A favorites Senegal, but will be expected to finish above Libya and co-hosts Equatorial Guinea.

Emmanuel Mayuka

National Team: Zambia

Club Team: BSC Young Boys (Switzerland)

Age: 21

Position: Striker

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Africa Cup Of Nations 2012 Player Profiles: Demba Ba

Senegal's Demba Ba is scorching hot and will look to carry that form into the Africa Cup of Nations for Senegal

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Africa Cup Of Nations 2012 Player Profiles: Asamoah Gyan

Asamoah Gyan's career has been a bit of a roller coaster since the last time he played in the Africa Cup of Nations. In the 2010 edition of the tournament, Gyan emerged as the Black Stars' first choice center forward, scoring three goals as they made the final of the tournament. At the 2010 World Cup, he scored a dramatic winner against the United States in the Round of 16, then missed what would have been a game-winning penalty kick in the quarterfinals against Uruguay.

Following his World Cup performance, Gyan moved to Sunderland from Rennes for £13 million, a Sunderland club record. Though Steve Bruce did not start him every game and Gyan was rumored to dislike his role in Bruce's tactical setup, he proved effective, scoring 10 goals despite making just 20 starts.

A combination of financial incentives and Gyan's attitude caused the club to loan him to Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates at the start of this season. Very few people have had an opportunity to see him play, but he's scoring for fun. Will the drop-down in competition cause Gyan to drop down the Black Stars' pecking order?

Even if it doesn't, he's dealing with an injury. Gyan went down with a hamstring problem just before squad lists were due, but he was named to the Ghana squad. He participated in full training for the first time over the weekend, and could find himself back in the starting XI before long. He has plenty of time to get up to full fitness, and Goran Stevanovic will have a tough decision to make between Gyan and Prince Tagoe. Tagoe played well in qualifying and is fit, but has had a poor season for Bursaspor.

As a true center forward and lone striker in Ghana's 4-5-1/4-3-3 system, Gyan is a perfect fit, which will likely cause him to get starts even if Stevanovic wishes he was both more fit and playing at a higher level of competition. His ability to come back for the ball, hold it up, distribute to his teammates and finish is a combination of skills possessed by very few players in the world. He does not have elite size or pace, but has enough size and pace to compete with any central defenders he will encounter in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Gyan's relationship with Sunderland fans has fluctuated constantly over the last year and a half while his desire to compete and work rate have come into question, but there's no questioning his talent and scoring rate. He scores once every other game for Ghana and has been a key player in their last two major international tournaments. If he's fit, he can't be left out of the team.

Asamoah Gyan

National Team: Ghana

Club Team: Al-Ain (UAE, on loan from Sunderland)

Age: 26

Position: Striker

Role In National Team: Center forward in 4-3-3, potential starter or first bench option

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Africa Cup Of Nations 2012: Player Profiles

In the build-up to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, we'll be profiling some of the best-known players in the tournament, as well as some lesser-known players looking to guide their teams to upsets and become stars.

Continue
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