Manyonga, Ta Lou, Kenyans headline Diamond League in Rome

Kenya's Timothy Cheruiyot has stolen a march in his 1500m rivalry against compatriot Elijah Manangoi this year. EPA/STEVE DIPAOLA

A number of Africans will be headline acts during Thursday's Golden Gala in Rome, which marks beginning of the European stretch of the IAAF Diamond League season.

Marie-Josee Ta Lou of Ivory Coast, South Africa's Luvo Manyonga and Kenyan trio of Timothy Cheruiyot, Wycliffe Kinyamal and Benjamin Kigen are among the continent's stars who will look to add to the wins they already have produced during the early stages of this Diamond League campaign like. Others, meanwhile, will be making their season debuts or looking to find the missing links between form and expectation.

Following a string of African-less field events, the 400m hurdles (20:13, CAT) is set to be a high-quality race featuring the entire London 2017 podium including champion Karsten Warholm, Cuban-Turk Yasmani Copello and Kerron Clement, the reigning Olympic champion.

However, of African interest will be the presence of Kenya's Nicholas Bett, the 2015 world champion in Beijing. He may have underperformed at the Commonwealth Games and run his personal best when he won his world title but should be considered a dark horse in Rome alongside Qatar's Abderrahman Samba, who leads the 2018 world seasonal list with 47.57.

The women's 3000 metres steeplechase race (20:23, CAT) has attracted a heavyweight field too and will be a case of reigning world champion Emma Coburn trying to get the better of her African rivals.

On paper, Kenya's Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi would be the American's most likely challenger for the win. She won in Rome in 2015 (before winning the world title in Beijing later that year) and has already beaten Coburn this year to partly avenge her London 2017 disappointment.

Among those attempting to surprise the favourites will be 2012 Olympic champion Habiba Ghribi from Tunisia, and the other top Kenyan runners Celliphine Chespol, world under-20 record holder, Beatrice Chepkoech (who won in Shanghai) and Purity Kirui.

The Kenyan charge will continue to come thick and fast when the men's 800m race takes place at 20:38 (CAT). Any of Wycliffe Kinyamal, Jonathan Kitilit, Kipyegon Bett or Ferguson Rotich could emerge victorious, but Ethiopia's Mohamed Aman could be the dark horse should the Kenyans run too tactically. Form suggests Kinyamal is the favourite, after he won Commonwealth gold and then set a personal best and meeting record while winning in Shanghai, but at 20 he still has much to learn about big race management. That being said, a fast race looks in the offing.

As it happens, Africans will also come to the fore during the men's long jump competition which starts at 20:40 (CAT).

South Africa's Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai, who earned gold and bronze medals respectively at last year's IAAF World Championships and repeated the double at the Commonwealth Games last month, will as usual push each other to great lengths.

Manyonga has been nigh on unbeatable for almost 18 months, but 19-year-old Juan Miguel Echevarria of Cuba managed it in Birmingham in February to become world indoor champion and Olympic gold medallist Jeff Henderson of the United States will also fancy his chances of causing an upset in the pit.

Should Nigeria's Tobi Amusan win the women's 100 metres hurdles at 20:53 (CAT) it may be considered a shock too.

However, it need not be so because she became Commonwealth Games champion in April and has a comparable season's best to the American duo of Brianna McNeal Rollins and Sharika Nelvis (also former Golden Gala winners) who are favourites to vie for the win. Dawn Harper Nelson has won four times in Rome, but the Briton would need to turn back the clock to make it five

Following a frustrating 2017, Ivory Coast's sprint star Marie-Josée Ta Lou is now on a handy win streak this year and will be favourite to claim the spoils in the women's 200 metres at 21:25 (CAT).

Ta Lou, the 200 metres world silver medallist, will have to get the better of the in-form Shericka Jackson of Jamaica, Swiss sprinter Muijinga Kambundji and a trio of Americans if she is to join her compatriot Murielle Ahoure as a Golden Gala 200m winner.

In the post-Usain Bolt era picking a favourite in a showpiece 100m race can be tricky, but Christian Coleman has to hold that billing at 21:35 (CAT) not least because the American is the world silver medallist, 60m world indoor champion and record holder.

That said, he was beaten last weekend in Eugene by fellow American Ronnie Baker which will also encourage the other sprinters in Rome. South Africa's Akani Simbine will be chief among them, and with the confidence which the Commonwealth Games victory gave him he should show up well against the US duo - with the evergreen Jimmy Vicaut and world 200m champion Ramil Guliyev as dark horses.

Meanwhile, with every passing men's 1500 race the Timothy Cheruiyot-Elijah Manangoi rivalry grows, and Thursday's match-up between them could the most explosive yet.

Manangoi has previous Rome (winning in 2016) and came into this year on top in the rivalry, but Cheruiyot has no bettered him twice in succession. More than that, Ethiopia's world indoor champion Samuel Tefera (only 20) managed to separate them in Eugene in the Bowerman Mile to suggest a momentum shift.

Be that as it may, Silas Kiplagat is a former Golden Gala winner himself but George Manangoi, Elijah's promising younger brother, could be the joker in the pack on the Olympic Stadium track.

While the Golden Gala will end with a non-Diamond League event, it will do so on a high note with the men's 3000 metres steeplechase.

The race in Rome takes added significance after world and Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto was finally beaten last weekend in Eugene. The fact that the defeat came to a fellow Kenyan in Benjamin Kigen is likely to further motivate Kipruto, who will be keen on making it a hat-trick of wins at the Olympic Stadium.