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Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Eight standout players of the group stage

Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Ed Owen looks over which players have stood out in the group stages of the tournament

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yaya toure

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Siyabonga Sangweni – South Africa

Never has a nation been more thankful for a goal-scoring defender than the Rainbow Nation are for Sangweni. The Orlando Pirates defender has scored some important goals for Bafana Bafana, including the late equaliser against Morocco, which saved the hosts from an embarrassing early exit. Though a defensive effort will now be needed against Seydou Keita’s Mali, Sangweni’s match-turning goals may prove to be a decisive factor in what will be a close game.

Fernando Varela – Cape Verde

Cape Verde have defied expectations, showing a surprising defensive resilience which enabled them to escape Group A ahead of the more illustrious names of Morocco and Angola. And at the heart of these performance was the clinical Varela, who cut out numerous chances to spoil the hosts’ opening night has remained consistent ever since. He capped off his run of performances with a vital goal against Angola, but another great performance will be needed if the Creoles are to topple Ghana.

Asamoah Gyan – Ghana

After two solid but unspectacular performances in Group B, Ghana suddenly burst into life against a hapless Niger in their final group match courtesy of a virtuoso Gyan performance. The former Sunderland man pulled all the strings that afternoon, rising to the challenge of captaincy by getting on the score sheet and providing an assist. Having improved vastly since the opening DR Congo match, Ghana will need this new Gyan to turn up again to avoid a slip-up against tricky prospects Cape Verde.

Seydou Keita – Mali

No nation wants to be labelled as a one-man team, but unfortunately for Mali the continued imperious performances of Keita could see this happen. The former Barcelona star has been everywhere for the Eagles, dropping back, creating opportunities, taking free kicks and attempting chances of his own. And it was Keita who provided the goal in Mali’s dour opener against Niger, giving them the vital three points – his nation may wish for similar rescue acts against hosts South Africa.

Alain Traore – Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso went into Group C branded the underdogs, yet thanks in no small part to the goals of Traore, find themselves in the quarter-finals. Linking up expertly with tricky winger Jonathan Pitroipa, Traore’s free-scoring form has given the Stallions the cutting edge required to dump defending champions Zambia out. Yet following an injury, the Burkinabe find themselves without the tournament top-scorer – up against fellow surprise package Togo next, they need to find goals again, and quickly.

Victor Moses – Nigeria

The Super Eagles have blown hot and cold throughout this tournament, as is their custom as Africa’s most frustrating yet talented side. But a bright spot among the gloom has been Moses – the Chelsea forward’s industry dug the Nigerians out a hole against Ethiopia, earning and scoring two penalties. However, with tournament favourites Ivory Coast up next and a haphazard defence not guaranteeing solidity, Nigeria will need Moses to keep his work-rate going.

Yaya Touré – Ivory Coast

It takes a very special talent to stand out in the Ivory Coast’s ‘Golden Generation,’ but Manchester City’s Touré has filled the criteria superbly. The two-time African Footballer of the Year lived up to his lofty title by causing Group C defences plenty of problems with rampaging runs from deep. Emphasising his quality with a superb goal in the 3-0 rout of Tunisia, the powerhouse midfielder will have plenty of opportunities against a chaotic Nigerian defence in the quarter-finals.

Emmanuel Adebayor –Togo

Cameras follow Emmanuel Adebayor wherever he goes, so perhaps it’s only natural that the live wire striker has managed to catch the eye. Playing in his first Afcon since the Cabinda tragedy and supplied by a conveyer-belt of able forwards, Adebayor has been crucial to all of Togo’s good work. And having taken turns as scorer and provider for the Sparrow Hawks, Spurs’ mercurial forward will now be set the formidable task of breaching the Burkinabe defence – the tournament’s meanest.

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