Africa Cup of Nations qualifying: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang headlines players to watch

Competitive international football returns to Africa for the first time in a year, as the continent's national sides and top players contest matchdays three and four of Africa Cup of Nations qualifying.

ESPN picks six players to watch in the Afcon double-headers as the teams continue on the Road to Cameroon.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Aubameyang is destined to be remembered alongside the all-time great African players whose international successes pale in comparison with their achievements at club level, alongside luminaries such as Sammy Kuffour and George Weah.

Auba is one of the finest strikers of his generation -- he is a Golden Boot winner in England and Germany -- but his international career has been bitterly disappointing, with the forward's stop-start commitment to the land of his father partly responsible for his patchy showings for Gabon.

Indeed, the biggest moments of his international career to date are his decisive penalty shootout miss in the 2012 Afcon quarterfinal defeat by Mali, and captaining the Panthers to a first-round exit at the 2017 tournament in Gabon before an indifferent Libreville crowd.

It's a meagre return for a player of such quality, and, at 31, this international cycle represents perhaps his last genuine chance to make his mark at a major tournament.

With an eye on legacy, perhaps, he appears set to honour the call-up to join the Gabon squad for the double-header against a Gambia team on the rise.

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"Pierre-Emerick is a superstar, but when he comes to the national squad he treats everyone as a friend and is humble," Gabon coach Patrice Neveu said.

"He does a lot of fantastic things for Arsenal so the people of Gabon expect a lot from him when he represents the country.

"It's a privilege to work with a great player like him and we are hoping he will help us be successful in our two matches against the Gambians."

Arsenal fans may not agree about those 'fantastic things' if the evidence of this season alone is taken into account.

Auba hasn't scored in open play since the opening-day victory over Fulham, a run encompassing his longest goalless streak since 2014, and he produced an abject performance in Arsenal's 3-0 defeat by Aston Villa on Sunday.

He must raise his game dramatically to sidestep the complaints of his compatriots.

Edouard Mendy

What a year it's been for the Senegal goalkeeper, whose standing in the world game has been transformed since he last took to the field for the Teranga Lions in a competitive fixture.

Over the past 12 months, he's helped Stade Rennais qualify for the UEFA Champions League, secured a £22 million move to Chelsea, and overseen a run of five consecutive clean sheets for his new club -- the Blues' best defensive streak for a decade.

Mendy hasn't always been considered Senegal's undisputed No. 1, but now he's arguably Africa's top goalkeeper and there will be expectations aplenty on his shoulders as he adapts to his new standing as a continental superstar.

The double-header against Guinea-Bissau also has deep personal significance for the stopper, whose later father was from the tiny West African nation.

Mendy senior encouraged his son to play for the Djurtus, and the keeper made the provisional Guinea-Bissau squad for the 2017 Afcon before he ultimately committed to his mother's country, Senegal, instead.

This is set to be an emotional encounter for the 28-year-old, who is playing against the country he could have represented for the first time.

Baba Rahman

Sticking with the Chelsea theme, eyebrows were raised in Ghana when coach C.K. Akonnor opted to name left-back Baba in his squad for the Sudan double-header.

The full-back's career was halted by a horror knee injury at the 2017 Afcon in Gabon, with his progress stagnating in the intervening years.

He's a passenger at Stamford Bridge, where he surely has no prospect of being reintegrated into Frank Lampard's plans, and several loan spells have amounted to nothing.

In light of his ongoing inactivity -- he's made just two appearances for the Blues' under-23 side -- his call-up to Akonnor's squad borders on the bizarre, particularly with two other left-backs, Jeffrey Schlupp and Gideon Mensah, also selected.

Nonetheless, Baba is still only 26, and even though he may not reach the heights once expected of him, there's still time for him to salvage something from his injury-ravaged international career.

Mostafa Fathi

It's not uncommon for Egypt coaches to fall out with their star strikers; just witness the legendary Hassan Shehata's touchline bust-up with Mido when the latter took umbrage at being substituted in the 2006 Afcon semifinal victory over Senegal.

The latest such fracas involved in-form Zamalek frontman Mohamed, with Pharaohs coach Hossam El-Badry suggesting recently that the 23-year-old was far from being the finished article and had work to do if he were to lead the line for the national side.

Mostafa clearly took those words to heart, firing a brace as Zamalek defeated Raja Casablanca in the CAF Champions League semifinal second leg, while ending the season with 11 Egyptian Premier League goals.

El-Badary has clarified his criticism of Mostafa, since the attacker's upturn in form, and appeared to take some credit for the striker's scoring run.

"What kind of explanation do you need from me concerning Mohamed," El-Badry said.

"There is absolutely no player who does not need additional work and when you have a player with [his] abilities you must work to bring out the best in him.

"I noticed since I spoke about Mostafa earlier he's had a positive reaction, and this is what any coach wishes from his player."

El-Badary will now hope the striker transfers his club form to the international arena when Egypt look to turn their qualifying campaign around against Togo.

Joe Aribo

Nigeria should prove too strong for Sierra Leone when the West African sides meet in these Afcon qualifiers, with the Leone Stars some 90 places below the Super Eagles in the Fifa World Rankings.

But Gernot Rohr and his side find themselves under some pressure after they drew 1-1 with Tunisia and lost 1-0 to African champions Algeria in the most recent international break.

The Super Eagles were criticised in those games for their complete lack of a functioning midfield, where John Obi Mikel's retirement has left a gaping hole, and the absence of Peter Etebo and Joe Aribo was keenly felt.

The latter pair return against Sierra Leone, and Etebo's engine-room dynamism will be welcome although Aribo perhaps holds the key to Nigeria's success.

If Aribo can dovetail well with the side's other nominal creative talent -- Alex Iwobi -- then Nigeria should have enough to unpick Africa's more stubborn defences.

Aribo can offer an end product as well -- as he demonstrated with a double in Rangers' 8-0 evisceration of Hamilton Academical last weekend -- and at 24 the 6'2 midfielder must now start exerting his influence in Nigeria's fixtures.

John Avire

Kenya head into matchday three of the Afcon qualifying campaign in a strong position, having taken two points from their opening two matches including an admirable draw with Egypt in Alexandria.

They now have a pair of fixtures against surprise group leaders Comoros that will go a long way to determining whether or not they reach Cameroon.

The Harambee Stars learned ahead of the first fixture at Kasarani Stadium on Wednesday that star striker Michael Olunga must undergo two weeks of self-isolation in Japan after several of his Kashiwa Reysol teammates tested positive for COVID-19.

It's a bitter blow for Kenya, who don't have other players capable of turning a game in their favour as Olunga can.

Masoud Juma and John Makwatta are two of the options to replace the frontman, but Avire of Egyptian club Tanta FC could be a secret weapon as Kenya coach Jacob Mulee looks to fill the void left by Olunga.

Avire's speed and power were evident during his time in the Kenyan top flight, before moving to North Africa, and this could be the perfect occasion for the attacker to break his international duck.