Organisers of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) are set to call off the January tournament amid worries over the Omicron Covid 19 variant.
Less than a month remains until the first game of the tournament is due to kick off in Cameroon, but reports in the French media on Wednesday suggested the competition could be cancelled amid concerns from national team coaches.
A number of Premier League teams had been due to lose players for the duration of the tournament, with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp revealing talks had been taking place with a view to delaying the release of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita.
Now, after a CAF meeting on Wednesday, it’s expected the competition will be postponed indefinitely.
AFCON had already been pushed back due to the pandemic, with the tournament initially scheduled for the summer of 2020 .
But the African Football Confederation (CAF) moved it to January 2020, before the pandemic forced the confederation into a one-year delay.
Around 40 Premier League players had been expected to join up with their national sides after the Boxing Day fixtures, though some clubs had been making efforts to delay the release.
However top-flight bosses are now set to be handed a reprieve.
Earlier, France’s RMC Sport cited concerns from “several national coaches” regarding the Omicron variant, while also detailing the complex issues around players attached to English clubs.
“The African players called up by their selection should…undergo a quarantine on their return to the United Kingdom, which would therefore deprive the clubs of their players for a longer period,” the publication noted.
The report adds that “the country [England] is currently affected by a significant wave of Covid cases.”
Liverpool aren’t the only Premier League team waiting anxiously to learn about the future of the tournament, with Chelsea having also been due to lose Edouard Mendy and Hakim Ziyech.
Algeria’s squad was expected to include the only representatives for Manchester City and West Ham United – Riyad Mahrez and Said Benrahma respectively – while Arsenal’s four representatives would have included former captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon.
The Premier League recently confirmed a return to emergency measures after 42 confirmed Covid-19 cases, the highest weekly tally since the competition began regular testing.
Sunday’s match between Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton & Hove Albion was postponed after an outbreak in the London club’s squad, while Manchester United’s trip to Brentford will also be played at a later date after United were forced to shut down their training ground amid an outbreak of their own..
Tottenham’s game against Rennes in the Europa Conference League was another postponed at late notice, with a flurry of cases in Spurs’ squad prompting manager Antonio Conte to express his concern at what he described as “a serious problem”.
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