Pinnick sweats over release of Eagles stars for World Cup qualifiers



as Premier League stops 60 players from qualifiers

Nigeria Football Federation president, Amaju Pinnick, says the federation is working on a Plan B after the English Premier League shockingly announced it will not release players in the league for next month’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Liberia and Cape Verde, PUNCH Sports Extra reports.

The Premier League said Tuesday that its clubs would not release any players for travel to so-called red list countries during September international break, a brazen rejection of protocol that sets up a significant confrontation with the sport’s governing body, FIFA.

The decision, a reflection of continuing public health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, will affect roughly 60 Premier League players from the 26 countries currently on the British government’s red list. The British government warns residents that they “should not travel” to any of the countries on the list; those who do face either strict quarantine conditions or outright exclusion if they attempt to return to Britain.

The decision to withhold players will affect World Cup qualifying matches for the national teams of more than two dozen countries, including Nigeria, Argentina, Brazil and the rest of South America, and also those from coronavirus hot spots like Egypt, Mexico and Turkey. It also touches 19 of the Premier League’s 20 clubs, potentially affecting players like Liverpool’s Alisson and Roberto Firmino (Brazil) and Mohamed Salah (Egypt); Manchester City’s Brazilian stars Fernandinho, Ederson and Gabriel Jesus; Manchester United’s Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani; and Colombians like Yerry Mina (Everton) and Davinson Sánchez (Tottenham).

That will mean that seven Nigerian stars, namely William Troost-Ekong, Oghenekaro Etebo and Emmanuel Dennis (Watford);  Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City); Alex Iwobi (Everton) and Frank Onyeka (Brentford) will be unable to play against Cape Verde in Praia on September 7, although they are free to play at home in Nigeria against Liberia three days earlier, as Nigeria is not on the Red List.

“I am working seriously on various possibilities to ensure our players are released by their clubs for the games,” Pinnick told only PUNCH Sports Extra.

The Super Eagles are drawn in Group C alongside Cape Verde, Central African Republic and Liberia.

But Pinnick and Eagles coach Gernot Rohr faces a huge headache to find replacements for the England-based players with some other European top leagues likely to take the stance of the Premier League.

Within hours, Spain’s top league, LaLiga, released a statement in which they said they would support any of their teams who decided to refuse to release players headed to South America. It said the number of players affected — currently 25 from 13 clubs — was expected to grow as countries announced their national team rosters this week.

The Premier League said its decision was a result of FIFA not extending a rule that had allowed clubs to hold back players if they were required to quarantine upon their return to their clubs. Forcing teams to release players and then quarantine, sometimes for as long as 10 days when they returned, created a situation that affected league play and fair competition, the clubs and the Premier League have argued.

“If required to quarantine on return from red list countries, not only would players’ welfare and fitness be significantly impacted, but they would also be unavailable to prepare for and play in two Premier League match rounds, a UEFA club competition match-day and the third round of the EFL Cup,” the Premier League said in a statement.

Even after those quarantine periods, the clubs said, the players would then need more time to regain match fitness.

Officials at La Liga in Spain cited similar concerns, and vowed to defend any team that was punished for refusing to release players. “LaLiga will take appropriate legal action as this change will affect the availability of players to play for their clubs, to the clear detriment of the competition’s integrity,” the league said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Eagles wingers Samuel Chukwueze and Moses Simon are major doubts for the games against Liberia and Cape Verde.

Coach Gernot Rohr is expected to announce his squad list for the qualifiers this week.

Villarreal’s Chukwueze has been out of action since May and has been recovering from a muscle injury he sustained in Villarreal’s Europa League semi-final fixture against Arsenal, while Simon copped a hamstring injury in Nantes 1-0 loss at Stade Rennes in Ligue 1 on Sunday.

Simon, who has three assists in three appearances for Nantes this season, was replaced at halftime during the defeat.

Also, the chances of new Crystal Palace midfielder Michael Olise making the squad are slim, with the 19-year-old just returning to training.

Olise is yet to make an appearance for the Eagles this season since his £8m summer move from Reading due to a back injury, but has returned to light training and is hoping to make his debut next month.

According to British daily, The Standard, manager Patrick Vieira does not want to throw Olise in at the deep end as he takes the step up from the Championship to the Premier League.

Meanwhile, duo Emmanuel Dennis and Frank Onyeka are in line to make the list for the game following their brilliant starts to the Premier League season, if their clubs allow them make the trip for the qualifiers.

“Dennis and Onyeka have done very well in their first two games in the Premier League and are sure bets to be invited barring any late issues,” a Super Eagles official told our correspondent.

The pair have made two starts for their respective teams with Dennis scoring on his debut for Watford in their 3-2 win over Aston Villa on match-day one.

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