Date: 17th November 2009 at 9:44am
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Angola host the 27th African Cup of Nations in the New Year with the competition being played between the 10th January and the 31st January 2010. This tournament in the past has only been of passing interest for Clarets fans but this year it could have a bearing on our survival chances in the Premier League.

There are two main questions to consider. Who from our team will be away on duty in this competition during this crucial month and of the teams we play in and around January, which opposition players could be away potentially giving the Clarets a better chance of securing points?

Before we answer these questions we also need to bear in mind FIFA regulations which allow players to be called up seven days in advance of the start of the tournament also bearing in mind there could be a recovery period afterwards. Some players therefore could be absent for up to six weeks.

Former Chelsea manager, Avram Grant who is now also close to starting his new role with Portsmouth as Director of Football once he gets his work permit, has been strongly affected by this tournament in the past with Chelsea and is about to be so again since Pompey have five players involved(see below)

He points out:

‘It`s not just the Cup; you have a problem after because players come back and take one or two weeks to get used to the conditions again. Africa is very hot in January, England very cold”

Clarets fans will be pleased to hear we only have one player affected by the African Cup of Nations. Cameroon will be involved and Andre Bikey therefore will be in contention to play. He has been a constant squad player for the Indomitable Lions and was involved in some of the African Group A World Cup 2010 qualifying matches. Cameroon qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa last Saturday after beating Morocco 2-0 away in Fes and finishing top of their group. Although Bikey was not involved in that game he was named in the squad and looks certain to be in Angola in the New Year.

Losing Andre Bikey in the New Year is a blow but probably not a critical one has we have plenty of options in both defence but more likely midfield where he is currently filling a role. Kevin McDonald could well be given an extended run in his place and Owen Coyle is unlikely to panic buy in the January window although might be tempted to consider a loan for a month or so depending on the injury situation and options. We should also remember that Chris McCann should also be well on the way to recovery over this period and could be fit to play in midfield.

What about the teams we play in and around January? Well we play the following:

Stoke City (H) 9th January

Manchester United (A) 16th January

Bolton (A) 26th January

Chelsea (H) 30th January

West Ham (H) 6th February

Fulham (A) 9th February

Of course players could return at any stage if their national sides are knocked out of the competition and with Chelsea at home one day before the African Cup of Nations final we will have to hope that the Ivory Coast meet Nigeria or Ghana in the final.

Chelsea have four players away for this tournament although to be honest they have such depth in their squad that they are unlikely to miss them too much although one of them will be Didier Drogba who with his teammate, Solomon Kalou will be both hoping to win the competition for the Ivory Coast. Michael Essien (Ghana) though will also be absent along with Jon Obi Mikel (Nigeria)

Of the other clubs mentioned above, the following players could be absent when we play them:

Stoke City: Mamady Sidibe (Mali)

Bolton: Danny Shittu (Nigeria)

West Ham: Herita Ilunga (DR Congo)

Fulham: John Pantsil (Ghana), Dickson Etuhu (Nigeria)

Manchester United don`t have any African players, mores` the pity and one wonders if that is a policy by Sir Alex or just co-incidence. They are just one of two clubs who don`t have African internationals on their books with the other club being Birmingham. Interestingly two of the clubs that could be in a relegation dogfight this season have the most to lose from this tournament. Portsmouth have five players affected (Utaka and Kanu-Nigeria, Belhadj and Yebda-Algeria plus Dindane -Ivory Coast) and Hull City have three players involved. In the case of Hull, one of those players is Gabon international striker, Daniel Cousin, a player linked with a move to the Clarets in the January window. The other Tigers affected are Ghilas (Algeria) and Olofinjana (Nigeria)

There is no doubt that this tournament could have a bearing on the domestic game in all sorts of ways and in the end could be the difference between relegation, survival or honours for all the Premier League clubs. This period will also see the third round and fourth round stages of the FA Cup, so it`s not only the final Premier League standings that could be affected.

No wonder therefore that there are calls for this tournament, held every two years to be changed. Danny Jordaan, who is a powerful figure in African football, is one such person calling for change. He currently heads up the 2010 World Cup operation in South Africa and believes the timeframe for the African Cup of Nations should be looked at. Jordaan is proposing that the African Nations Cup is played for every four years instead although he does still believe there should be some sort of biennial continental tournament for the African nations who he thinks have little or no chance of success on a global level.

Oh well, good luck to Andre Bikey and here`s hoping he comes back fighting fit without any injury or exhaustion.

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