Africa kicks off the group phase of its World Cup qualifiers on Wednesday with countries have to juggle their line-ups because of the refusal of British clubs to release some of their best players for some matches.
Most come from the Premier League, which refused permission for players to head to countries on the British government’s Covid-19 red list who would be forced to quarantine for 10 days on their return.
Egypt must do without talisman Mohamed Salah for their home match against Angola on Friday but could use him away against Gabon next week.
His Liverpool team mates Sadio Mane and Naby Keita are playing in countries on the amber list and are therefore available for Senegal and Guinea respectively in both their scheduled qualifiers over the next seven days.
Nigeria have a full contingent at home against Liberia on Friday but for a more difficult Group C game away to the Cape Verde Islands on Tuesday must do without eight players based in England and Scotland, including midfield general Wilfred Ndidi and his Leicester City team mate Kelechi Iheanacho because the archipelago is on the red list.
Ghana will have five English-based players available for their Group G home match on Friday against Ethiopia but they cannot then travel to red-listed South Africa for their next game on Monday.
The Ivory Coast, who dropped both Wilfried Zaha and Nicolas Pepe, cannot use Eric Bailly of Manchester United or Serge Aurier of Tottenham for their first game in Mozambique on Friday but they will be available for the crunch Group D game against Cameroon in Abidjan on Monday.
“We’ve been under continual pressure from clubs not to select their players. In March it was the French clubs who refused and now it’s the English,” said Ivory Coast coach Patrice Beaumelle.
“I’m tired of the whole affair and I think it’s uncalled for because everything is well organised these days with regular testing, safe travel and closed stadiums to minimise any risk,” he told Reuters on Monday.
The match between the Ivorians, who won the African Cup of Nations in 2015, and Cameroon, who succeeded them two years later, is the pick of the games in the first two rounds of qualifying, which runs from Wednesday to Tuesday, September 7.
The 40 countries are divided into 10 groups of four with only the winners advancing to two-legged playoffs in March, which will decide the five African teams for Qatar 2022.
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