Africa Cup of Nations 2017: The stars on show

By Motez Bishara, CNN

Published 1347 GMT (2147 HKT) January 10, 2017
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will lead host nation Gabon's bid to win the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. Scroll through the gallery to see some of the tournament's key players ... Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images
Wilfried Bony, Ivory Coast: The forward played a key role in Les Éléphants' triumph in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, with two headers in a quarterfinal win over Algeria. With the international retirement of Yaya Toure, the 28-year-old Manchester City striker -- on loan to Stoke City -- assumes the role of team leader for the tournament's favorite. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
Cheikhou Kouyate, Senegal: The 27-year-old rock of West Ham's midfield can score goals when called upon -- including the Hammers' first-ever goal at the Olympic Stadium this season. Senegal's towering 6-foot 4-inch team captain played in the 2015 Cup of Nations as well as the 2012 Olympics. Dan Mullan/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabon: Borussia Dortmund's striker is famous for his Usain Bolt-like bursts of speed -- as well as his superhero goal celebrations -- and is one of the bona fide global stars of the tournament. The French-born 27-year-old is averaging nearly a goal per game in the Bundesliga this season, but he will have to match that pace if the hosts are to advance deep into the tournament. Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images
Andre Ayew, Ghana: The 26-year-old West Ham winger already has 71 caps and 12 goals for Avram Grant's team, and assumes the Black Stars' leadership role from the waning Asamoah Gyan. He has big shoes to fill, considering his father Abedi Pele is known as one of the greatest African footballers of all time. KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Islam Slimani, Algeria: The 6-foot 2-inch striker was a goal machine in his three seasons with Sporting CP in Portugal, and has already found an effective partnership with compatriot Riyad Mahrez in his first season at Leicester City. Slimani has 23 goals in 46 caps for Algeria, who will look for him to create chances with Mahrez and veteran striker El Arabi Hillel Soudani to get past the first round. CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
Mohamed Salah, Egypt: Salah is the fastest rising star on a team loaded with young European club talent. The "Egyptian Messi" has found a home with Italian A.S. Roma, which named him player of the season for his team-leading 14 goals in its 2015-2016 third-place campaign. The 24-year-old speedster has a prolific 29 goals in 47 appearances for Egypt. ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Karim El Ahmadi, Morocco: Thirty-one-year-old defensive midfielder El Ahmadi is one of a few veteran players on a young Moroccan team. The Dutch-born player is now in his second spell with Feyenoord after two years in the Premier League with Aston Villa, and will be called to anchor the spine of the Atlas Lions. JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images/file
Adama Traore, Mali: The 21-year-old Monaco midfielder has very little experience at club and senior international level. However, he was named player of the tournament at the 2015 Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand behind his four goals and three assists. Should he be given a chance, Traore could prove a surprise in Gabon. VALERY HACHE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Franck Kessie, Ivory Coast: The 20-year-old midfielder might return from AFCON having swapped current Italian club side Atalanta for a European heavyweight, with Chelsea having reportedly had a big bid rejected for him, according to the player's agent. Kessie has six goals in 16 games for Atalanta so far this season and his all-action style has drawn comparisons with compatriot Yaya Toure, who has now retired from international football. KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
Aymen Abdennour, Tunisia: Although central defender Abdennour (left, with teammate Anis Ben Hatira) is the most experienced outfield player for the Eagles, at the age of 27 he's still in his footballing prime. The former Monaco player signed with Valencia last season as a replacement for Manchester City-bound Nicolás Otamendi. SALAH HABIBI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Bertrand Traore, Burkina Faso: Chelsea forward Traore -- on loan at Ajax -- made his senior debut for Burkina Faso as a 15-year-old, and will be playing in his third Africa Cup of Nations. Despite limited club appearances, Traore is known for his deft ball skills and has attracted a cult following in Amsterdam. Mike Hewitt/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Michael Azira, Uganda: The Colorado Rapids defender (#42) is one of only a few MLS players participating in Gabon. Azira moved to the US as a 20-year-old college player before signing with the Seattle Sounders and has since moved to the Colorado Rapids. Azira, whose family still lives in Uganda, will be participating in his first tournament for his birth country. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images/file
Alaixys Romao, Togo: Before his recent move to Olympiacos, French-born Romao was the lynchpin of Marseille's midfield. Should current free agent Emmanuel Adebayor not find the net regularly to lift the the Sparrow Hawks in Gabon, Togo will rely heavily on an organized defense led by Romao. FRANCK FIFE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Knowledge Musona, Zimbabwe: Striker Musona (center, hand raised) knows how to score goals. Nicknamed the "Smiling Assassin," Musona has knocked in 14 goals in 20 appearances for the Warriors, and has a good strike rate for Belgian club KV Oostende too. If Zimbabwe, which is the second biggest outsider in the tournament at 100 to 1 odds, is to get out of its group, it will need Musona to continue his fine form. JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images/file
Bocundji Ca, Guinea-Bissau: Team captain Ca (center, with former club Reims) will lead one of the least experienced team going into Gabon. The 30-year-old Paris FC player has been capped 16 times by Guinea-Bissau. Goals and international appearances in this gallery are sourced from respected website transfermarkt. FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images