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Morocco coach Halilhodzic fears Africa Cup of Nations could be called off

Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodzic on Thursday expressed his fear that the Africa Cup of Nations, due to kick off in Cameroon on January 9, could be called off due to the renewed threat of Covid-19 and the possibility that European clubs might not release players for the tournament.

“With the health situation, it is getting more and more complicated and difficult,” Halilhodzic told AFP in a telephone interview.

It emerged on Wednesday that the European Club Association, which represents leading clubs across the continent, had sent a letter to world governing body FIFA expressing its concerns about the Covid-19 health protocol for the four-week long competition.

It also implied that clubs may come together to refuse to release players.

Many of Africa’s leading players are based at clubs in Europe, including Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane and Morocco star Achraf Hakimi, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain.

“There is a big question surrounding whether it will happen or not,” admitted Halilhodzic, the veteran 69-year-old former Yugoslavia international who has previously coached the likes of Ivory Coast, Algeria and Japan.

“At the moment there is a big battle going on between all the different lobbies.

“Players are obliged to come to their national teams, but all the clubs are fighting to stop their players from coming, some have threatened their players and said they could lose their places or be sold,” he claimed.

“In all likelihood it would be a big problem if all the players based in Europe,” missed the competition.

When Morocco beat Guinea in their last World Cup qualifier in November, they fielded an entire starting line-up of players based in Europe.

Halilhodzic added: “For me, if a player doesn’t come, that suggests he doesn’t have enough of an attachment to the national team.

“I could refuse to call up someone who doesn’t want to come, even if there is a threat from the clubs. That player can say goodbye to the national team.”

The Cameroonian Football Federation (Fecafoot) on Wednesday dismissed any suggestion the tournament could be called off as “fake news”.

The country was initially supposed to host the Cup of Nations in 2019 before fears about its lack of readiness led to the tournament instead being handed to Egypt.

It was then supposed to host the event last year only for the pandemic to force its postponement by 12 months.

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