What are AFCON's missing stars, like Boniface, Zaha, and Choupo-Moting, up to?



Inevitably, at each Africa Cup of Nations, some of the continent's biggest names are missing for a whole array of reasons. Let's catch up on what some of these absent stars have been doing while the rest have been competing for Africa's grandest prize.

Rejected the call

Manchester United's Hannibal Mejbri was one of a handful of players who rejected their country's Nations Cup invitation. Despite representing the Carthage Eagles at the World Cup, Mejbri informed Tunisia head coach Jalel Kadri that he was unwilling to join the selection for the AFCON, preferring instead to concentrate on his club career.

"Hannibal told me that he did not feel ready for the African Cup of Nations because he is going through an important situation at his club," Kadri told journalists in a press conference in December.

United duly announced that Mejbri had been loaned out to Sevilla the day before the Eagles' defeat by Namibia, and he made his debut in the Rojiblancos' 5-1 defeat by Girona on Sunday.

Ghana's Abdul Fatawu Issahaku is another who turned down the opportunity to feature at the global showpiece, having played just 65 minutes for the Black Stars at the last AFCON, and one minute in Qatar, despite being named in then-coach Chris Hughton's provisional squad.

Leicester City's Abdul Fatawu saw red against Coventry in mid-January, so would probably have been better off accepting Ghana's AFCON call up. Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images
Leicester City's Abdul Fatawu saw red against Coventry in mid-January, so would probably have been better off accepting Ghana's AFCON call up. Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images


The winger preferred to remain in England and help LeicesterCity's promotion push back to the Premier League, but his decision hasn't paid off, with the 19-year-old getting sent off in the latter stages of the Foxes' 3-1 defeat by Coventry City on January 13.

A straight red means a three-match suspension, meaning the teenager will only be back - at the earliest - on February 3. Perhaps it mightn't have been such a bad move to accept that AFCON call-up after all!

Ex-Chelsea leftback Abdul Rahman Baba also opted out of the squad, and was duly named as the Greek Premier League's Player of the Week following an outstanding display for PAOK Salonika during the opening weekend of the tournament.

Abdoulaye Doucouré is enjoying cult status at Everton these days, having scored the goal that secured the Toffees' top flight status last season. Enjoying a new lease of life under Sean Dyche, he could have been yet another magnificent addition to this Mali midfield in Ivory Coast, but instead opted to remain at Goodison Park to help the People's Club in their relegation battle.

Doucoure has endured injury problems in recent weeks - missing a month of action after being injured against Burnley in mid-December - with Dyche revealing last Wednesday that the midfielder has suffered yet another hamstring setback.


Ruled out by injury

Ghana were further been depleted by the absence of Thomas Partey, whose time at Arsenal has been undermined with injury. He's currently out with a hamstring problem, not featuring for club or country since October, and is proving to be a major loss for both the Gunners and the Black Stars.

Another familiar face in English football - Wilfred Ndidi - also misses out for Nigeria. The Leicester City man was injured in action for his club on December 29, and was duly replaced in the squad by Belgium-based Alhassan Yusuf. The latter made his debut for the Eagles against Equatorial Guinea, while Ndidi - sporting a fetching Naija-green jumper - shared an Instagram reel of himself cruising in a diamond-studded limo.




Brentford's Bryan Mbeumo is a big loss for Cameroon, after picking up an ankle injury in Premier League action in early December. The attacker shared snaps of himself recharging his batteries in Dubai, although the 24-year-old remains on crutches.

One of the in-form stars of the Bundesliga season so far, Victor Boniface has been a revelation at Bayer Leverkusen with 10 goals in 16 outings, and could have attained superstardom at the Nations Cup. Instead, an adductor muscle injury sustained in tournament preparations in Dubai kept him out of proceedings.

While the Super Eagles have advanced to the knockouts, Boniface has been focusing on his own rehabilitation back in Germany. The forward is expected to be absent for at least three months.

While Nottingham Forest forward Taiwo Awoniyi also misses out with a long-term injury, there was some controversy around the omission of Umar Sadiq from the Nigeria camp.

Head coach Jose Peseiro acknowledged he was 'confused' as the 26-year-old came on as a sub in Tuesday's Copa del Rey tie for Real Sociedad against Osasuna last week, only five days after being withdrawn from the Nigeria squad due to a knee injury that was expected to keep him out for three weeks.

Certainly, in a training video shared by the player last Monday, he showed little sign of a knee complaint.

Crystal Palace midfielder Cheick Doucouré is another injury absentee, and right-sider Tariq Lamptey also missed Ghana's squad due to injury. He returned to training with Brighton last week... probably relieved that he'd missed Black Stars' miserable tournament showing.

Nigeria's Sadiq Umar of Real Sociedad in action during the Copa del Rey match against CA Osasuna on 17 January, after leaving the AFCON squad due to injury. Ricardo Larreina/Europa Press via Getty Images
Nigeria's Sadiq Umar of Real Sociedad in action during the Copa del Rey match against CA Osasuna on 17 January, after leaving the AFCON squad due to injury. Ricardo Larreina/Europa Press via Getty Images


Late to the party

Of those big names penned in for the Nations Cup, three in particular were conspicuous by their absence from their sides' opening fixtures. Since then, André OnanaMohammed Kudus and Vincent Aboubakar have each experienced vastly different fortunes.

West Ham United's Kudus - billed to be one of the potential stars of the tournament - is already eliminated. Injury threatened his participation, but Chris Hughton still opted to include the midfielder in his squad, and while Kudus missed Ghana's opener, he returned to score twice against Egypt as the Black Stars salvaged a draw.

Ultimately, he wasn't able to help the West Africans prevent a group stage exit, and could be set to make his return to West Ham when they host Bournemouth on February 1.

Onana missed Cameroon's opener after opting to remain in England until Sunday in order to play in Manchester United's 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur. He found himself stranded at Abidjan airport after foggy weather conditions prevented him from flying onto Yamoussoukro in a private jet to participate in Monday's meeting with Guinea, with the stopper's cousin Joseph Ondoa forced to deputise between the sticks instead.

It was hardly an ideal start to the campaign for Onana, who was exiled from the camp during the Qatar World Cup after a disagreement with head coach Rigobert Song. He made his return against Senegal, but conceded three times - including two goals which were due to goalkeeping errors - and lost his place (again to Ondoa) as Cameroon sealed progression against The Gambia.

Will Onana be handed a reprieve and return to the starting XI as the Indomitable Lions advance in the competition?

Onana's international teammate Vincent Aboubakar, who was set to wear the armband for the Lions, sustained a training injury on the eve of the AFCON, putting his participation in jeopardy. Cameroon remain hopeful that the 2022 Golden Boot winner will still be able to play some part in the tournament, although he wasn't seen at all during the group stage.


Eric Maxim Coupo-Moting has lost minutes at Bayern Munich since Harry Kane's arrival, and would have been a valuable resource for Cameroon at AFCON. Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images
Eric Maxim Coupo-Moting has lost minutes at Bayern Munich since Harry Kane's arrival, and would have been a valuable resource for Cameroon at AFCON. Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Not even invited...

Cameroon's Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is one of the most high-profile absentees from the tournament, with the veteran having netted as recently as November for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.

Admittedly, his playing time has been limited by Harry Kane's arrival in Bavaria, but the 34-year-old could have nonetheless brought leadership and experience - not to mention goals - to the squad.

"Sadly, I'm not among you but my complete support is there," Choupo-Moting wrote to his Cameroon teammates in an impassioned Instagram post. "I must accept this decision not to be selected this team. Despite this disappointment, I wish you all good luck as a Cameroon supporter."

The ex-Paris Saint-Germain man has played in Bayern's last two fixtures - a victory over Hoffenheim and the defeat by Werder Bremen, as rumours of a potential move to Manchester United continue to swirl.

Eric Bailly, a winner with Ivory Coast in 2015, re-signed for Villarreal on December 30, having terminated his contract with Besiktas earlier in the year. The centreback's inactivity during the second half of 2023 ultimately appears to have cost him a place in Jean-Louis Gasset's squad for an AFCON on home soil.

Also missing a home AFCON is Wilfried Zaha, whose Ivory Coast career has threatened to kick into gear without the Galatasaray man truly being able to bring his club form to the international arena.

Ex-England international Zaha took to social media to support those players still with the squad: "Good luck for those selected to represent the country in the tournament. I'll be encouraging you from far."

What's Wilfried Zaha been up to since not being picked for AFCON by Ivory Coast? Scoring goals for Galatasaray, that's what. Hasan Tascan/Anadolu via Getty Images
What's Wilfried Zaha been up to since not being picked for AFCON by Ivory Coast? Scoring goals for Galatasaray, that's what. Hasan Tascan/Anadolu via Getty Images

Speaking about now ex-coach Gasset's decision to cut Zaha, federation president Idriss Diallo hinted at why the big-name forward had been overlooked.

"There's no sense in keeping a player who is not capable, due to his collective spirit, his mentality, and his way of living, of integrating," the federation chief told journalists.

"At some time there will come some small problem, and it will spoil the group. There's a proverb that says: one single orange can spoil the whole bag."

The 31-year-old played the full game as Gala defeated Kayserispor last Monday, before scoring twice and registering an assist as the Istanbul giants defeated rivals Trabzonspor 5-1 away on Sunday. How the Elephants are missing him...

Did not qualify

Gabon's failure to make the Nations Cup means there's no AFCON swansong for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Instead, the Olympique de Marseille has shared snaps of him watching the tournament back at home, cheering on his OM teammates Amine HaritAzzedine Ounahi and Chancel Mbemba, as well as his former Chelsea colleague Hakim Ziyech among others.

Keywords: AFCON Ivory Coast Africa Cup of Nations

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