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AFCON: Bayo leads list of AFCON stars ready to shine

The Africa Cup of Nations is always one of the most exciting tournaments to follow, with some lesser known names making thier mark to a much wider audience.

And the upcoming edition in Cameroon looks set to be no exception and there are several youngsters ready to break on to the big stage.

Mohamed Bayo - Striker - Clermont Foot 63 and Guinea

After a breakout season in Ligue 1, Mohamed Bayo looks primed to continue his ascent at the AFCON.

Bayo netted 22 times as Clermont Foot earned promotion to the top flight last term and has scored nine Ligue 1 goals so far this season, a cool 45 per cent of his team's output.

The 23-year-old was born and brought up in Clermont-Ferrand but qualifies for Guinea through his mother, who came to France from her homeland.

After making his debut in March, he has netted twice in five appearances for the Syli Nationale and will be crucial to their hopes of making it out of a Group B that is expected to be dominated by Senegal.

However, with Zimbabwe and Malawi both being lower ranked than Guinea, there is every chance Kaba Diawara's men will progress.

Bayo, 80/1 to be the tournament's top scorer, ignored the advances of Bordeaux in the summer and having been linked with a move to Premier League West Ham as recently as December, could be a name that becomes increasingly familiar if he shines in Cameroon.

Kamaldeen Sulemana - Winger - Rennes and Ghana

Rennes has proved to be a conveyor belt of talent in recent years and while Kamaldeen Sulemana didn't come through their academy, his performances since signing last summer suggest he could easily eclipse the reported €20million the Breton outfit paid for him.

Having made his professional debut at another club known for developing youngsters, FC Nordsjaelland, Sulemana has impressed in Ligue 1 with his aggression when carrying the ball and the directness with which he attacks defenders.

As of writing, only two other Ligue 1 players have completed more successful dribbles than the 19-year-old this season and the international stage provides him with another opportunity to hone his skills.

With Jordan and Andre Ayew set to lead the Ghana attack, the talent is there within the Black Stars' frontline and Suleman's ability out wide could be exactly what the brothers need to fire their country to a first AFCON title since 1982, currently 12/1.

Despite having just six caps to his name, Sulemana is expected to play a significant role for his country and is thought to have been mentioned amongst the targets that Ralf Rangnick is eyeing up for Manchester United.

Moreto Cassama - Midfielder - Reims and Guinea-Bissau

Diminutive midfielders who can both play and mix it physically have become all the rage and Guinea-Bissau, 22/1 to win Group D, may have a star on their hands in the form of Moreto Cassama.

The Reims man might stand just five feet and five inches tall but he makes up for it with his awareness of everything around him.

Cassama began his career in Portugal, playing in the B team at Porto but has excelled since moving to the Stade Auguste-Delaune in January 2019.

This season, he has made 14 Ligue 1 appearances, scoring a brace in the first of those, a 3-3 draw against Montpellier.

Goals are not really his forte, netting just once last term. Instead, he excels on either side of the ball and his defensive play has especially improved.

Cassama has picked up just one yellow card in 2021/22, a tally that is in stark contrast to the nine cautions and the three straight reds cards he received last term.

Despite earning just 12 caps heading into the competition, he has AFCON experience having made his international debut at the 2019 tournament and is unlikely to go unnoticed in a central midfield also expected to feature former Nottingham Forest and Reading loanee Alfa Semedo.

Ramiz Zerrouki - Midfield - FC Twente and Algeria

Amsterdam-born but an Algeria international, Ramiz Zerrouki's influence at the AFCON could go a long way towards his country defending the title they won in Egypt in 2019.

The 23-year-old featured in five of the Fennec Foxes' qualifiers and looks set to add a bit of extra steel to a side blessed with extraordinary attacking talent.

He moved to Enschede from Ajax in 2016 and has become a vital part of a Twente side who went into the Eredivise's winter break unbeaten in seven and pushing for a European place.

Zerrouki has since played all 90 minutes of Algeria's pre-tournament friendly against Ghana, a 3-0 win, suggesting he will be part of the starting side for their tournament opener against Sierra Leone on Tuesday.

A win in Douala is 1/8, while the North African outfit are 5/1 to win the continental championship for the third time.

With an attack featuring the likes of Islam Slimani, Said Benrahma and captain Riyad Mahrez, Algeria will expect to go far.

However, there are sure to be some nervy moments in their campaign, with them expected to face one of Morocco, Ghana, Egypt or Nigeria in the quarter-finals.

Therefore, having reportedly been courted by Tottenham last summer, Zerrouki's performances may see him add to his burgeoning fan club.

Ibrahim Sangare - Midfielder - PSV Eindhoven and Ivory Coast

Joining Algeria in Group E are Ivory Coast and the man that could control their campaign is Ibrahim Sangare.

The 24-year-old looked set for Southampton 18 months ago, but work permit issues resulted in a breakdown in the negotiations and PSV Eindhoven swept in to sign him, paying Toulouse what looks a relatively paltry £8.2million.

Sangare has continued to develop in the Eredivisie and the feeling is that it will be a case of when, rather than if, a big club makes their move, with Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal all thought to have monitored his progress in the Netherlands.

Ivory Coast are 8/1 to win the AFCON and have talent throughout their side, with Premier League stars such as Wilfried Zaha, Maxwel Cornet and Eric Bailly amongst their number.

Their forward line is set to be led by Ajax's Sebastien Haller, who is 12/1 to be the AFCON's top scorer, having eclipsed Robert Lewandowski by netting 10 times in this season's Champions League.

Meanwhile, their midfield is also mightily impressive, with Sangare likely to partner AC Milan's Franck Kessie.

Kessie's craft and guile is a fine foil to Sangare's physical dominance and in a team of creators, the latter's ability to hold things together in the middle may define the Elephants' campaign.

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