The squads for countries facing crucial qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations will be hit after all players in the top two divisions of French football were banned from leaving Europe.
The 40 clubs from Ligue 1 and 2 agreed unanimously to prevent their players from leaving the EU and the European Economic Area, because of the quarantine period they would have to undergo on their return to France due to fears of Covid-19 transmission overseas.
While upcoming South American qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup were last week postponed to allay such fears, the critical African Cup of Nations games were not.
“In the absence of an exemption for foreign international players made available to their national team, and in view of the response times imposed by international regulations, the clubs of Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 have decided to unanimously apply the Fifa circular of February 5, 2021 taking into account the many travel restrictions in the world,” a statement from the Ligue de Football Professionel said.
“In this context, the clubs will not make available for selection the foreign players summoned for matches outside the EU / EEA zone during the next international period in March.”
The two rounds of fixtures to be played between 24 and 30 March will determine the 24 teams who will travel to Cameroon in January 2022.
The news will undoubtedly leave many coaches scrambling to fill their squads.
A large percentage of African internationals – particularly those from French-speaking countries such as Senegal, Cameroon and Ivory Coast – all African footballing powerhouses – play their club football in France.
Benin’s head coach Michel Dussuyer has already said he was struggling to pull together enough players for their matches against Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
The decision by the French L1 and L2 clubs could massively impact the outcome of Afcon qualifiers taking place in just a week from now. More than 250 African players are involved in those two leagues.
Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Algeria, and Mali – in that order – are the top five countries with players who now will not be able to travel and play in these critical qualifiers. But while Senegal, Algeria, and Mali are already qualified – and Cameroon are hosts – Ivory Coast have not yet booked their ticket.
They will play Niger on the 26 March followed by and Ethiopia on 30 March. And although both teams have a weaker ranking than the Elephants, coach Patrice Beaumelle highlighted that both are more used to play together as a team with local players – especially a team like Ethiopia, who are just a point behind Ivory Coast in their qualifying group.