AFCON loses lustre as players opt to stay with clubs rather than travel to Gabon

By Samindra Kunti

January 9 – Next weekend the African Cup of Nations will begin in Gabon, but the tournament’s build-up has been marred by the ever strident complaints from European clubs over African players representing their country at Africa’s flagship tournament.

Joel Matip was the most high-profile player involved in a club versus country row, but ultimately Cameroon’s Belgium coach Hugo Broos backed down and defused the conflict by not selecting the Liverpool defender for the tournament.

At the start of his reign Broos had spoken to Matip to convince him of a return for the Indomitable Lions, but the player had always been reluctant. Subsequent attempts by Broos yielded little results, but the Belgian seemed to insist on Matip going to Gabon.

“It’s not an easy decision but I want to concentrate on Liverpool,” Matip told Liverpool’s website. “I want to be here. I want to focus on Liverpool and that’s what I had to decide. I think I took the right decision.”

Broos named his final 23-man squad for the tournament and respected the wishes of Matip and six other players who wanted to be omitted. Aurelien Chedjou and Henri Bedimo, both of whom played for the Indomitable Lions at the 2014 World Cup, were two high-profile surprise omissions.

The four-time champions will be thus be taking the field with a weakened side. They face hosts Gabon, Burkina Faso and Guinea Bissau in Group A.

Bournemouth striker Benik Afobe has also withdrawn from DR Congo’s squad.

Holders Ivory Coast, however, have been able to add to their talent pool with Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha eschewing overtures to stay loyal to England and embarking on a new course with his international career.

FIFA rules allow countries to call up players, causing a club versus country conflict every two years which this time has led to more players than ever opting to stay with their clubs. The rules stipulate that players can be banned from club football during the competition.

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