Who are Africa's stars to watch in 2018?

Ola Aina of Hull City BackpagePix

During 2017, several African players have taken their game to a new level and emerged as genuine breakout stars in the world game.

Who are the players who could follow in their footsteps in 2018?

Here are five talents - lesser-known names and more established stars - of whom we're expecting big things over the next 12 months, whether it be a return to prominence after an injury nightmare or a genuinely breakout campaign.

Ola Aina has faced several challenges over the last few months as he's already enjoyed a shift in status both at club and international level.

Things haven't always been easy, but the versatile defender has done enough to suggest that he is destined for a career at the top of the level.

A loan move from Chelsea to Hull City has seen the full-back feature regularly in the testing environs of the Championship, and while he has made a few mistakes during the Tigers' troubled campaign to date, he's largely risen to the challenge of first-team football.

The leggy defender offers speed and vertical movement out wide, and has already started matches for Hull in both full-back positions, as a left wing-back and in a more advanced left-wing role.

After making his Nigeria debut towards the end of 2017 - after switching from England - he looks primed for the World Cup squad, and may even secure a starting spot, with Elderson Echiejile still to truly convince on the left.

Richmond Boakye: Now 24, it's high time that Boakye began delivering on the potential he showed as a youngster, particularly if he's to star in a major European league as many of us had hoped he once would.

The hitman was signed by Juventus back in 2012 following a successful spell with Sassuolo, but he struggled to build on his promise and departed in 2014 after two loan spells and no first-team appearances for the Old Lady.

He appeared destined to become the latest in a long line of African players who fail to realise their potential, but his career has been revived by a move to Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade - initially on loan - earlier this year.

Boakye has been a goal machine in the Serbian Super Liga and the Europa League, and at the time of writing, currently sits third in the division's scoring charts with 15 goals.

His form has prompted rumours of a move back to Western Europe, with West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea linked to his signature.

Ismaila Sarr: The Senegal forward might have been a contender to make our five African breakout performers of 2017 list had injury not stymied his progress.

The wideman has been absent since September after suffering an ankle injury following a heavy tackle from Kevin Theophile-Catherine during Rennes' 2-2 draw at Saint-Etienne.

He's not due back until the New Year, but once he returns and rediscovers his full fitness, it should only be a matter of time before the 19-year-old is back in the business of terrorising Ligue 1 defences.

When he does return, keep an eye on Sarr, who boasts excellent balance, upper body strength and dribbling skills.

Abdul Rahman Baba will be desperate to see the back of 2017. At the start of the year, the left-back was just beginning to establish himself on loan from Chelsea at Schalke, and was set to be a key man for Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Ultimately, he picked up an anterior cruciate ligament injury just 39 minutes into the Black Stars' opener...and hasn't played since.

It's a miserable stroke of misfortune, but Baba, who could have made a claim to have been Africa's top left-back in 2015, is only 23 and has time on his side as he looks to return to the pinnacle of the continental game.

Expect another loan deal in January - either back to the Bundesliga or another Premier League club - where Baba will be desperate to make up for lost time.

Sofyan Amrabat: Morocco have a clutch of talented central midfielders to call upon at the moment, with Herve Reward facing the difficult decision of having to choose between Mbark Boussoufa, Karim El Ahmadi, Hakim Ziyech, Amine Harit and Yassin Ayoub among others for next summer's World Cup.

Despite his relative inexperience, one players who can be quietly confident of making the cut for Russia is 21-year-old Amrabat, who made his debut for the Atlas Lions earlier this year.

At 5'9, he's not the most imposing midfielder, but he can hold his own in the heart of the park, and also has the intelligence to use the ball well, even if he can be ambitious with his passing when under pressure.

There's maturity there nonetheless - witness the way he dealt with Raheem Sterling when Feyenoord faced Manchester City in Champions League action earlier this year - and it will be fascinating to see how the former FC Utrecht man can make the most of his undisputed talent over the coming 12 months.