COVID hits favourites ahead of Africa Cup of Nations finals

Ivory Coast has been preparing in Saudi Arabia since Monday and is due to stay until January 5, before heading to Cameroon, where they will compete in Group E against Algeria, Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Algeria earlier this week said forwards Youcef Belaili (left) and defenders Mohamed Amine Tougai and Houcine Benyada had tested positive at its training camp in Qatar.   -  AFP

Algeria, Ivory Coast and Morocco, who are among the favourites for the Africa Cup of Nations, have been hit by COVID-19 just over a week before the tournament kicks off in Cameroon.

The Ivorians said players arriving from Europe at their training camp in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, had tested positive and been put into quarantine by local authorities.

They did not name the players nor state how long they will have to isolate but the rest of the squad would continue with their training, a team statement on Thursday added.

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Ivory Coast has been preparing in Saudi Arabia since Monday and is due to stay until January 5, before heading to Cameroon, where they will compete in Group E against Algeria, Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Algeria earlier this week said forwards Youcef Belaili and defenders Mohamed Amine Tougai and Houcine Benyada had tested positive at its training camp in Qatar.

They will have to "observe the period of quarantine required by sanitary protocols before re-joining the squad," said the Algerian Federation.

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On Thursday, Spanish club Barcelona said its Moroccan player Abdessamad Ezzalzouli had also tested positive, putting his participation at the finals in doubt.

Ezzalzouli is only expected to arrive at Morocco’s pre-tournament training camp next week.

Morocco defender Badr Benoun, a late addition to the squad, has also had to postpone plans to join team mates training in the United Arab Emirates after returning a positive test.

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Four Cameroon players have tested positive for COVID-19, with the Africa Cup of Nations hosts set to kick off the tournament against Burkina Faso in just over a week's time, the country's football federation said on Friday.

Other teams preparing for the finals, which start on January 9, also reported positive cases, with seven more in the Cape Verde Island squad and one for Morocco.

Sylvain Gbohouo, who plays in Ethiopia at Wolkite City, has been provisionally suspended by FIFA after testing positive for trimetazidine, a heart medication that the World Anti-Doping Agency categorises as a stimulant.

The announcement was made by the Ethiopian Football Federation but not confirmed by the Ivorians.

Meanwhile, Cameroon's Eric Maxim Choupo Moting has been injured in training and is waiting to see if he can play.

The Bayern Munich player, expected to lead the attack for the hosts, suffered “a severe pain in his right knee” and underwent a scan, according to the Cameroon football federation.

It is awaiting the results, fearful that the 32-year-old striker might miss out.

Cameroon also said leading defender Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui, midfielder Pierre Kunde Malong, winger Christian Bassogog and back-up goalkeeper Jean Efala had all tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

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Cape Verde, which has been preparing for the Cup of Nations at home, had already called off a friendly match against Morocco before reporting new cases in their camp on Friday.

A statement said the infected players had been isolated but were showing no symptoms, and that just 15 players were able to train on Friday.

All players called up for the Cup of Nations but whose clubs are playing this weekend are allowed to stay at the clubs until Monday in a concession announced last week by the Confederation of African Football.

Usually, players must be released by their clubs to their respective national teams 14 days before the start of the tournament.

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