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The Roker Ramble: One's To Watch At The African Cup Of Nations

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Whilst many Premier League sides such as Arsenal, Manchester City & Chelsea see the Africa Cup Of Nations as more of a hindrance than a help, I personally always quite look forward to it. Like many Sunderland fans I became engrossed in all things African following the 2010 World Cup, and of course our mini-infatuation with Ghana.

So while some fans will be looking forward to England's disappointing/expected second round elimination from Euro 2012 this summer, this for me is the best tournament of 2012 without question.

It tends to throw up some enthralling games, and with several of the so called "big hitters" such as Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Cameroon absent this year, the cup is very much up for grabs.

Also, we ourselves have no real involvement in the tournament (are we still counting Asamoah Gyan?), so unlike the previously mentioned teams we've nothing to really worry about with it. We can just sit back and enjoy it.

So whilst there's new teams on the block, there's some new faces too. Inevitably some new stars are set to emerge. So with that in mind, I've decided to look through the squads, and pick out a couple of "Ones To Watch" from each group, but at the same time hopefully avoiding the uber-obvious such as Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure etc.

You never know, they could end-up in Red & White...

Issiar Dia, Midfielder, Senegal

Senegal are not quite the team which took the world by storm at World cup 2002. Papa Bouba Diop, El Hadji Albert Diouf, Aliou Cisse and the likes are long gone, but the next wave (of sorts) isn't too bad either, and the West Africans should be considered legitimate contenders for the cup.

With an embarrassment of riches up front including the likes of Demba Ba, Mamadou Niang, Moussa Sow and Papiss Cisse, someone is going to have to create something for them. That man, for me, is Issiar Dia, the 24 year old right winger-come-striker plying his trade at Fenerbache.

Whilst he doesn't have any stand-out stats per se, he's one of them that prove stats aren't always everything. Sure, the defending in Turkey isn't the greatest, but it's not that much better at most African sides, so I'm sure he'll be one to watch at the tournament.

With Dia's strengths are his quickness, and directness. Not without a few tricks, he's at his best when running directly at defenders, and with Fener's rumoured financial problems, he could be one worth taking a low-priced punt on after the international showcase.

Evans Kangwa, Striker, Zambia

Still very young, Kangwa has been fast-tracked to the international stage on the back of some outstanding performances at an Under 20's Tournament in Botswana, where Zambia won and Kangwa was named "Player Of The Tournament" to go with his Top Scorer award.

A goal-poacher of the highest order, Kangwa recently sealed a move to South African giants Orlando Pirates, however the move has temporarily been shelved whilst payment details are agreed upon. It's likely he'll make the move, and that along with the forthcoming AFCON will give him a great platform to show the world his skills.

There's still work to do for the youngster, and is more likely to be an impact substitute whilst Christopher Katongo leads the line, but there's every chance that with just a smidgen of service, Kangwa can be a difference maker, everything he touches seems to turn to goals.

In an age where goal-poachers are a dying breed, someone in Europe could do worse than to send a scout over to check him out.

Bertrand Traore, Midfielder, Bukina Faso

Traore came through the academy at Auxerre, before in 2010 as just a fourteen year-old being faced with the choice of a move to either Manchester United or Chelsea. Traore chose the latter.

All this also came on the back of an excellent U17 World Cup outing, where Traore was one of the youngest players at the tournament.

Now aged sixteen, the sky seems to be the limit for Traore as he's worked his way into the national team setup before even playing a club game, but that's just how highly he's thought of. He's certainly filled out a bit from being a raw teenager at Auxerre, and as predicted by his youth team coach, he can certainly go places...

"He could become a very great player because he can do everything with the ball. He has a good eye, a good pass, he has control... he has everything!"

A left footed winger, who can play on either side, Bertrand will be ones to watch in the Bukina Faso team certainly capable of getting out the group stage as any one of those outside of Ivory Coast could.

Charles Kabore, Midfielder, Bukina Faso

Whilst Kabore will be a household name to anyone who's paid attention to Ligue 1, where he plys his trade for Marseille, he could well come further on to people's radar following AFCON 2012.

More of a holding midfielder than one to get overly excited about, Kabore has risen rapidly from the French third tier to becoming the regular enforcer in the Marseille side, a role he'll also be carving out during this tournament.

He plays the role well, certainly beyond his 23 years, and has attracted the attentions of Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur with good reason.

Bruno Ecuele Manga, Defender, Gabon

Manga is a commanding centre-back, who's also very comfortable at full-back. However, there's every chance you'd never have heard of him (if you haven't already). Rejected as a youngster by Bordeaux, he meandered around the lower leagues of France with Angers and Rodez before being snapped up by Lorient of Ligue 1 on a free transfer.

His aerial presence is a handful for both strikers at one end and defenders at the other. Think if Christopher Samba wasn't quite as clumsy, and perhaps a bit quicker, then you're on the right road with Manga.

A big move must surely be only around the corner for the 23 year-old, and rumour has it Arsenal, Liverpool and Real Madrid have been keeping an eye on him.

Oussama Assiadi, Midfielder, Morrocco

Assiadi is a player that really interests me, and should a mainstay of the Moroccan team for the future having recently made the breakthrough in early 2011. He was also eligible to play for Holland having spent his entire career there, and they apparently made a strong play for his services

Assiadi is all about speed, a quick midfielder who can bomb on beyond strikers from either the middle or the wing, and once in position, has a lovely pair of feet, and can move the ball at terrific speed between them.

To me, he looks exactly the type of player who could thrive in the Premier League, but any interested parties might want to move quickly as Lazio are rumoured to be making a bid some time soon, and his value could rise rapidly after the Cup.


So those are our ones to watch, and perhaps ones that Sunderland could even take notice of, who knows! If you've got any names you think the world should be looking out for, why not leave us a comment.

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