Nigeria’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) preparations have been hit by the loss of four players due to a mixture of Covid-19, injuries and “administrative reasons,” with the tournament just over a week away.
Napoli forward Victor Osimhen has tested positive for Covid-19, the Serie A club said on Thursday, while injuries have ruled out defenders Abdullahi Shehu, who plays in Cyprus for AC Omonia, and Glasgow Rangers’ Leon Balogun, according to the AFCON website.
Meanwhile Watford manager Claudio Ranieri has denied his club has disrespected the tournament following an announcement by the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) that striker Emmanuel Dennis has been “excused.” AFCON’s website described his omission as due to “administrative reasons.”
However Nigeria’s official Instagram account on Friday said the English Premier League club had been “baring fangs” over Dennis, who had been named in the three-time African champion’s squad on Christmas Day.
“Health concerns, injuries constrain changes to Nigeria’s final 28-man list for AFCON 2021,” read the NFF’s Instagram post on Friday.
Speaking ahead of Watford’s home game against Tottenham Hotspur on New Year’s Day, Watford manager Ranieri said that the club had been “ready” to allow Dennis to be selected and suggested that the NFF missed the deadline to call up the forward.
“No [we have not disrespected [AFCON], we respect everybody,” Ranieri told reporters on Friday.
“They [Nigeria] have a lot of players and they change the manager, then we change everything and then we were ready – we knew.
“We were ready to give the players – they didn’t do this. Then the two boards spoke and then for me it’s OK.”
Ranieri said that the 24-year-old Dennis, who is enjoying a stellar Premier League season with eight goals and four assists, told him that he “wanted to go” to the tournament, but also that “he wanted to help Watford.”
Neither Watford nor the NFF immediately responded to CNN’s request for comment.
‘Tinged with racism’
On Thursday, former England and Arsenal striker Ian Wright said that media coverage of Europe-based players traveling to the Africa Cup of Nations was “disrespectful” and “tinged with racism.”
With several high-profile Premier League stars set to represent their countries at the tournament – including Liverpool trio Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita, as well as Chelsea goalkeeper Édouard Mendy – Wright highlighted the contrast to the way in which the 2020 European Championship was covered last year.
“Is there ever a tournament more disrespected than the Africa Cup of Nations?,” Wright said in a video posted on his Instagram on Wednesday.
“There is no greater honor – none, as a sportsperson – than representing your country. The coverage is completely tinged with racism.
“We played our Euros across 10 countries in the middle of a pandemic and there’s no issue at all. But Cameroon, a single country hosting a tournament, is a problem.
“You are getting journalists asking players – players getting asked – if they will be honoring the call-ups to their national teams. Imagine if that was an English player representing the Three Lions – can you imagine the furore?”
Hosted by Cameroon, AFCON’s 33rd edition runs from January 9 to February 6.
Nigeria is in Group D with Egypt, Sudan and Guinea Bissau. Nigeria’s first match is against Egypt in Garoua on January 9.
Meanwhile Gambia has had to cancel two friendlies in Qatar ahead of AFCON due to a number of Covid-19 cases and injuries – involving as many as 16 players and five officials – in their squad.