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Ex-Cameroon international weighs in on AFCON

The stakes are high as Africa’s best converge on Gabon for the 2017 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) and one person who has seen it all is former Cameroon international Cyrille Ndongo-Keller.

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Cyrille Ndongo-Keller, who represented Cameroon at the 1994 FIFA World Cup and the 1996 edition of AFCON, knows first hand how it means to play for your country in Africa.

“In Africa everyone dreams to play for their national team, If you’re a national team player you’re regarded as highly as a member of government. You’re a superhero,” he said.

“You see players who earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a week leave their jobs and go and play for their countries, it tells you something.”

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All eyes will be on host nation Gabon heading into AFCON 2017, with Borussia Dortmund superstar Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang leading the line.

The 27 year-old has 16 goals in 15 Bundesliga appearances this season and Gabon will be relying heavily on his goal-scoring prowess if it is to have any chance.

But it's reigning champion Cote d’Ivorie with the heavy favourite tag and Cyrille Ndongo-Keller has backed the Elephant's emerging generation of stars to fill the void left behind by Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba.

“They’re got a very strong unit, with plenty of players from the squad that won it in 2015. They’ve got so many good players – (Eric) Bailly, (Serge) Aurier, (Wilfred) Zaha and a very balanced team,” he said.

While singing the Elephant’s praises, he was quick to question their mental fortitude as the star-studded side has been regularly accused of faltering on the big stage.

“The problem for Ivory Coast is sometimes mentally they’re not as tough as the Cameroonians or Ghanaians,” he said.

“We don’t know which Ivory Coast we are going to get.”

Cameroon may boast mental toughness, but a shambolic preparation and in-house fighting has threatened to derail its AFCON campaign.

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Liverpool defender Joel Matip, headlines six star players who chose not to take part in the Cameroon squad, and the former Cameroon international believes a cultural disconnect from European-born stars plays a big part.

“When you look at players deciding not to play for Cameroon, most of them are European born,” he said.

“There are too many internal problems, I find it very amateurish. The game is moving forward in Cameroon, but management has to follow as well”

While the likes of Cameroon and Ivory Coast steal headlines, Guinnea-Bissau flies into AFCON under the radar after qualifying for the first time in its history,

With no household names to fear, other nations are likely to overlook Guinnea-Bissau which the 38 year-old believes will play right into the minnow’s hand.

“Guinnea Bissau has a lot of underrated players who play in lower leagues overseas."

“Be careful. If they were just local players I would say it’s a fluke, but this is a team full of professional players."

“If they can create a strong solid unit, they could surprise a couple of people.”

Whether you're tipping the big guns or rooting for the underdogs, there will be plenty on the line for each side as they carry the hopes of a football-crazed nation to African football's biggest stage.