Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Game-Breakers to Watch in Group Play

Ryan DavenportContributor IJanuary 24, 2013

RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 22: Emmanuel Adebayor of Togo and Yaya Toure of Ivory Coast during the 2013 Orange African Cup of Nations match between Ivory Coast and Togo from Royal Bafokeng Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Rustenburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)
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With the group stage of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations underway in South Africa, the field appears to be relatively wide open as a number of teams look to have a decent chance at making deep tournament runs.

The defending champions Zambia didn't look quite as invincible as they did the last time around, as they drew their opening match against Ethiopia, and perennial contender Ghana also ended up with a tie against the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Looking ahead, each of the teams' second matches should give a clearer indication of what to expect during the knockout phase of the tournament, and there are a number of star-caliber talents that will be counted upon to deliver when all-important points are on the line.

Here's a look at some of the big names to keep an eye on during group play over the next week.


Yaya Toure

As usual, the Ivory Coast will be favored by many to come away with the title, as the roster is stocked with high-end talent including Didier Drogba, who has been among the sport's most prolific offensive weapons for the last decade.

However, if the Elephants are to finish atop the Group D table, they'll need a strong performance out of Toure, the Manchester City standout who was recently named the 2012 African Player of the Year.

In the early going, Toure has been solid, as he buried the team's first goal of the tournament, helping the Elephants secure an important victory over Togo.


Asamoah Gyan

At the 2010 World Cup, the Ghanaian squad surprised many by advancing to the tournament quarterfinals, and though he'd miss a critical penalty in a loss to Uruguay, Asamoah Gyan was a major factor in his country's run through the tournament. 

Gyan introduced himself to North American fans by scoring the winning goal over the United States in extra time of the Round of 16, bringing his total for the tournament to three.

Unfortunately, Gyan's luck on penalty kicks did not improve at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, as the captain missed again during the Black Stars' semifinal match against eventual champion Zambia.

Now, after scoring at an absurdly impressive pace in the UAE Pro-League, Gyan will be counted upon to deliver in clutch situations.  


Christopher Katongo

One of the biggest reasons why Zambia captured the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations was the play of Emmanuel Mayuka and Christopher Katongo, who tied for the tournament lead with three goals a piece.

However, Katongo stood alone as the tournament's most valuable player, and as the captain of the defending champions, his performance will play a large role in determining whether Zambia can come close to repeating.


Didier Drogba

At 34, Didier Drogba's time playing for the Ivory Coast would appear to be winding down, but that doesn't mean that the iconic striker won't be counted on to contribute offensively at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

That's because it wasn't that long ago that Drogba scored both the tying goal and winning penalty in the Champions League Final over Bayern Munich, and despite his departure to Shanghai, he's still got the ability to alter the outcome of any match at a second's notice.  

He's got nothing left to prove to anyone, but after tying for the tournament lead in goals at last year's Africa Cup of Nations, Drogba's more than capable of helping the Elephants do some damage in the later rounds.