Kampala. Thanks to the tournament’s expansion from sixteen to twenty four participants, most high profile footballers born on the continent will grace the thirty second edition of the Africa Cup of Nations that commences Friday, June 21 with hosts Egypt battling Zimbabwe. Still, there are players who for one reason or another will be missed by their teams and fans keen to catch a glimpse of Africa’s best.
Former African footballer of the year Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is the highest profile absentee from the Egypt 2019 finals. Despite plundering 31 goals for Arsenal, Gabon’s skipper will not grace the biennial showpiece because his team failed to negotiate passage through a qualifying group that included Mali, Burundi and South Sudan. Aubameyang is partly to blame for his own absence as he declared himself unavailable for a couple of key qualifiers.
Two Nigerians are not on Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr’s roster for Africa’s elite soccer competition but would walk into the starting line ups of ninety percent of the teams in Egypt. Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho has been dropped altogether for his loss of form for club and country whereas Chelsea wing back Victor Moses has declined attempts by the Nigerian Football Federation to rescind his retirement from national team duty.
Clarence Seedof’s reigning champions Cameroon are meanwhile bereft of the services of Joel Matip who is coming off a trailblazing season in which he helped Liverpool win the European Champions League and register their highest ever English Premier League points tally but has refused to play for the Indomitable Lions along with Jiangsu Suning’s Benjamin Moukadjo and Torino’s Nicholas Nkoulou. Both accuse their country’s football governing body for not taking players’ welfare seriously.
Gianneli Imbula has been omitted from the Democratic Republic of Congo squad because his registration to switch allegiance from France has not been cleared by world football governing body Fifa on time. He is joined on the sidelines by Burkina Faso pair Bertrand Traore and Bakary Kone who are coming off successful seasons with their respective clubs Olympique Lyon and Arsenal Tula (Russia) but couldn’t negotiate safe passage through a tough qualifying group that comprised Angola, Botswana and Mauritania.
Other familiar faces that won’t be viewed at the June 21-July 19 event are Nigerian goalkeeper Carl Ikeme - diagnosed with life threatening cancer and veteran Zambian trio Kennedy Mweene, Stopira Sunzu and Raymond Kalaba, who miss out because the 2012 champions fell out of contention from a qualifying group including Namibia, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau.