Gabon prepares to host the cream of African football as a wealth of stars head to Gabon for the African Cup of Nations 2017.
Ivory Coast remain the favourites to lift the trophy but face stiff competition from the likes of Senegal, Algeria, Ghana and Egypt as Africa’s showpiece tournament prepares to light up the continent.
With some of the world’s biggest names taking a break from club football, we pick out 20 names you should be keeping an eye out for as the tournament progresses.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Gabon
Where better to start than one of the main attractions?
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be leading the line for the host nation hoping to put in a showing good enough to reclaim the ‘African Player of the Year’ award he recently lost to Riyad Mahrez.
The France-born 27-year-old, who has scored 21 times in 52 international appearances, is already Gabon’s highest goalscorer.
Kalidou Koulibaly – Senegal
The 25-year-old Napoli defender is relatively new to the international scene but heads back to Africa with high expectations, linking up with his Senegal team-mates.
With only 11 caps to his name, Koulibaly is better known for being the high-profile transfer target of Chelsea who bid an astonishing £50.9million offfer for the defender in the summer.
Senegal are considered second favourites to go all the way and win the tournament and, if they do harbour serious ambitions, Koulibaly will need to be at his best.
Riyad Mahrez – Algeria
Our first Premier League name to enter the list – and it’s a big one.
Riyad Mahrez, recently crowned BBC African Football of the Year 2016, will be hoping to sprinkle some of that magic underdog dust on Algeria following Leicester City’s remarkable Premier League triumph last season.
With just six goals in 27 international appearances, much more is expected from the new poster boy of African football.
Islam Slimani – Algeria
Staying with Algeria, Marhrez’s partner in crime Islam Slimani will be pleased to link up with some familiar faces on the international scene following what has been a difficult start to life at Leicester City.
For a man of with little world stature as a leading striker, the £28m Leicester paid for him in the summer is starting to look more and more expensive by the day.
However, Slimani is a man for the big occasion and Africa’s main footballing event could be the turning point in his season.
Sadio Mane – Senegal
A man who needs very little introduction following his exploits with Liverpool this season.
Moving on from one extravagant transfer fee to another, Sadio Mane trumps the £28m paid for Slimani by boasting a £34m price tag above his head. The difference, however, is that Mane is starting to justify his high valuation.
Nine goals and four assists already for Liverpool this season, Mane will be hoping to take the tournament by storm.
Mohamed Salah – Egypt
Mo Salah, a blast from the not-so-distant past for some English readers.
Best known for his failed transfer from Basel to Chelsea, the keen followers of Italy’s Serie A will know just how much of a valuable commodity the 24-year-old has become for Roma.
Two loan stints away from Stamford Bridge worked wonders and, with eight goals and four assists this season, Salah is held in the same high regards as the man who came before him on this list.
Andre Ayew – Ghana
Ghana, who boast a wealth of talent in their attacking ranks, will hope Andre Ayew showcases some of his better form during the tournament.
Having impressed in his one season with Swansea last year, West Ham invested a cool £20.5m on the winger only to see him suffer a devastating thigh injury early in his Hammers career.
However, back to full fitness, Ayew will be keen to kick-start his season with the Black Stars.
Karim El Ahmadi – Morocco
Heading over to Morocco, we have former Aston Villa defensive midfielder Karim El Ahmadi.
At 31, El Ahmadi could probably be considered one of few ‘veteran players’ in what is a very young Moroccan outfit.
The Dutch-born midfielder is now into his second stint with Feyenoord and will have a big role to play in keeping some calm throughout the spine of Hervé Renard’s team.
Bertrand Traoré – Burkina Faso
It feels a bit like Chelsea forward Bertrand Traoré has been around forever but, in a somewhat surprising discovery, he’s still only 21-years-old.
That said, he did make his international debut at the ludicrously young age of 15 and has already earned himself 23 caps.
Having come through the Chelsea youth system, Traoré is enjoying his second loan spell in Holland and is currently playing a key role in Ajax’s Eredivisie title push.
Franck Kessié – Ivory Coast
Our first name from the team considered to be favourites for the tournament, and it is the next rising star of Les Éléphants.
For those unfamiliar with Kessié, he is the 20-year-old midfielder who currently plays as a midfielder for Serie A club Atalanta.
The box-to-box midfielder has scored six goals in 16 Serie A matches and, like Kalidou Koulibaly, is becoming popular following transfer speculation linking him with a move to Chelsea.
Wilfried Zaha – Ivory Coast
Staying with Ivory Coast, we have former England international Wilfried Zaha who is preparing to make his debut having opted to walk away from the Three Lions following a Gareth Southgate snub.
The Crystal Palace winger, born in Abidjan, was brought up in London from the age of four and went on to earn two caps for England before reversing his decision.
‘I have made my choice,’ he said. ‘Now I want to play with the Ivory Coast. It has been rewarding, firstly because I am proud to play for my country, then because the Ivorian selection has quality players and has always been a reservoir of talent.
‘So I made the right choice and I do not regret it.’
Mehdi Benatia – Morocco
The French-born Morocco central defender has had an interesting career to say the least.
Having come through the ranks at Ligue 1 club Marseille, Benatia has gone on to represent the likes of Udinese, Roma and Bayern Munich and racked up extortionate transfer fees along the way.
Currently on loan at Italian champions Juventus having failed to justify the €26m Bayern paid for him, 29-year-old Benatia is hopeful of turning his move to Turin into a permanent one.
Emmanuel Adebayor – Togo
Yes, Emmanuel Adebayor is still an actual footballer.
At the tender age of 32, the former Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Tottenham striker will lead his Togo team out in Gabon despite not actually playing for a professional football club at the moment.
Adebayor is a free agent and has been since he left Crystal Palace last year. Still, should be an interesting watch.
Asamoah Gyan – Ghana
Staying with the 30+ group, we have another name from the Premier League archives with former Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan.
Unfairly branded a flop following his failed move to England, Gyan has put the bad memories of Sunderland behind him by heading East to earn bucket loads of cash.
Gyan became one of the first footballers to earn copious amounts of money from the Chinese Super League, and, to be fair to him, justified it by scoring a lot of goals.
Now plying his trade back in the United Arab Emirates with Al Ain, Gyan will be keen to silence some doubters.
Vincent Aboubakar – Cameroon
Aboubakar, the 24-year-old Cameroonian striker on loan at Turkish club Besiktas from Porto, already has almost 50 international caps to his name.
Having alerted some Premier League clubs over the past 12 months, Aboubakar will be leading the line for Hugo Broos’s Cameroon team who have relatively inexperienced attacking options heading into their Group A fixtures.
Mohamed Elneny – Egypt
Arguably one of the stars of the tournament following his move from FC Basel to Premier League giants Arsenal.
Elneny has split opinion somewhat since arriving at the Emirates but that won’t stop the Egyptian fans worshiping the 24-year-old holding midfielder who has emerged as an Arsene Wenger favourite.
Ramadan Sobhi – Egypt
Staying with Egypt we have 19-year-old Ramadan Sobhi.
Sobhi, who signed for Stoke City as part of a £5m deal from Al Ahly in the summer, has been tipped to make a fast-tracked move to Manchester United by former Spurs boss Martin Jol.
Jol managed Sobhi in the Egyptian Premier League and gave Jose Mourinho a call to monitor the progress of the young winger.
‘I sent a message to Jose Mourinho, who is in touch with me, asking him to keep an eye on Ramadan with Stoke City as he is a brilliant player and he can play at Manchester United after that,’ said Jol.
Mame Biram Diouf – Senegal
A failed transfer to Manchester United and a forgettable loan to Blackburn Rovers is normally the perfect recipe to spell the end of a footballer’s career in England.
Diouf, however, took himself off to the Bundesliga to play for Hannover 96 and successfully rebuilt his reputation with a flurry of crucial goals before making his free transfer to Stoke City two years ago.
A return to England was a brave decision from Diouf but one that typifies his relentlessly hard-working character. Lacking in goals somewhat, Diouf will be heading to the AFCON with a point to prove, desperate to assert himself as one of Africa’s best.
Yacine Brahimi – Algeria
Brahimi, the French-born Algerian international, was named the 2014 BBC African player of the year following his transfer to Portuguese giants Porto.
Brahimi is an unpredictable, free-flowing winger who can cause any defence around the world problems. Lining up alongside Mahrez and Slimani will leave Algerian fans quietly confident of their chances of winning the tournament.
Khama Billiat – Zimbabwe
Billiat is the 26-year-old Zimbabwean midfielder who currently plays his stuff for Premier Soccer League club Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa.
Having gone relatively unnoticed for the majority of his career, Billiat was named the Player of the Year in 2015 in the South Africa league and heads the AFCON with the weight of his country on his shoulders.
Make no mistake about it, Zimbabwe will need to do a lot of defending in Group B when they face the likes of Algeria, Senegal and Tunisia, but if they are to surprise anyone during the tournament then it will be down to Billiat to lead the troops.