Thursday 14th December, 2017
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27 ℉ | 32 ℉Atlantic City
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Five African players have been included in the ESPN FC 2017, but which of the continent's star men could be primed to feature in next year's version of the list?

In this feature, KweséESPN presents five of the continent's emerging stars who we're tipping to crack the 100 in 12 months' time.

Hakim Ziyech: Is there any African player in the world today who can run a match as easily - and with as much sophistication - as Ziyech?

He stepped up comfortably to life at Ajax after being signed from FC Twente at the beginning to last term, going on to contribute 11 assists and seven goals as the Amsterdam giants ran Feyenoord close for the title.

The technical qualities and capacity for invention demonstrated by the Morocco international in the Atlas Lions' 6-0 evisceration of Mali was one of the finest individual displays by an African player in 2017, and he was also outstanding in Ajax's recent 8-0 thumping of NAC Breda.

When Ziyech controls the contest as he did - notably - in these two fixtures, he can appear to be unplayable, and the 24-year-old has the potential to be Africa's outstanding player at the World Cup.

Naby Keita missed out this year, but it's only a matter of time until he cracks the list and cements himself as a regular feature in this celebration of the world's top talents.

The midfielder was the key protagonist in RasenBallsport Leipzig's maiden Bundesliga campaign last term, as the nouveau-riche upstarts upset the established order and secured Champions League qualification.

Keita was Leipzig's heartbeat, making significant contributions both defensively and offensively, and weighing in with a combined 15 goals and assists.

Notably, he averaged 2.6 tackles and interceptions per match, while only one player - Ousmane Dembele - completed more successful dribbles. A sublime winner in Guinea's Nations Cup qualifier against Ivory Coast also highlighted his technical class and capacity for invention.

The 22-year-old joins Liverpool next summer, and if he can continue with his current progress -and cut out his disciplinary lapses - the Reds could get their hands on a genuinely world-class player.

Keita Balde has had something of a tumultuous start to his career after being exiled by Barcelona following an ill-advised prank on a team mate and enduring a fractious relationship with Lazio fans and management during his time in Serie A.

Nonetheless, his class shone through at the tail end of last term, and after ending the campaign with 16 goals in 31 league outings, he was duly signed by AS Monaco for €30 million.

Balde's most eye-catching contribution during 2016-17 was his hat-trick against Palermo in April - the quickest in Italian top-flight history - and his pace, strength and finishing ability should ensure he takes Ligue 1 defences by storm.

He's started slowly at the Club of the Principality, but if he finds his rhythm in this much-changed Monaco side, then don't be surprised if he's a contender for the FC 100 in 2018.

Medhi Benatia's stock has fallen in recent seasons following the high of 2014, when he was signed by Bayern Munich from AS Roma.

Back in Italy last term on loan with Juventus, the Morocco international struggled to get into the team, and didn't always look comfortable when he did feature.

There was, therefore, some surprise when Juve made the defender's loan deal permanent - for €17 million - this summer, although the centre-back has set about repaying that faith this term.

He excelled in the Champions League stalemate with Barcelona, and also capped another magnificent performance with a goal as Juventus beat Crotone 3-0 four days later.

If he can continue in this vein, he could help the Old Lady forget about the departed Leonardo Bonucci, while a strong World Cup showing with Morocco could see him crack the list.

Kalidou Koulibaly has improved significantly in recent seasons, to the point where he could be considered - along with Eric Bailly - as Africa's pre-eminent centre-back.

The defender has been a rock at the heart of Maurizio Sarri's Napoli during their superb start to the campaign, and a recent showing in the 2-1 victory over AC Milan highlighted his presence in the big games and his improving composure.

Expect some of Europe's giants to be circling for his signature again in the upcoming transfer windows, while a strong World Cup with Senegal could make him a genuine contender for this list.

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