Liverpool and rivals handed huge boost after decision on AFCON player release

Liverpool and other Premier League rivals have received a huge boost after it was revealed that FIFA will allow participating players in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) to join up later than expected next month.

It was originally understood that players heading to AFCON would have to fly out after Boxing Day, meaning they would miss up to five gameweeks of Premier League action and other competitions too.

But The Associated Press report that FIFA deputy secretary general Mattias Grafstrom on Saturday confirmed in a letter their “commitment of solidarity” to the World Leagues Forum and European Leagues to push back the date to January 3.

“CAF has decided that for those players who have official club matches between the 27 December 2021 and 3 January 2022, the participating member associations in question are to be directed that these players may remain with their clubs to participate in these matches and be released after the last match during this period,” Grafstrom wrote.

This news will come as a huge relief to clubs as it now allows players to take part in their first club fixtures of the New Year in 2022 before heading off on international duty

Liverpool were facing the prospect of losing star duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane for their fixtures against Leicester, Chelsea, Brentford, Crystal Palace and Burnley, depending on how far their national teams progress.

Midfielder Naby Keita is also heading for Cameroon to play for Guinea in the tournament.

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But the agreement to push back the date means that all three players will now be available for selection for Jurgen Klopp in their crucial match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on January 2.

The Blues will no doubt be pleased with the outcome too, as it allows Edouard Mendy a final appearance before he joins Mane on the plane to Cameroon.

Arsenal are set to lose four players for the tournament, with Thomas Partey, Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mohamed Elneny all departing.

But Mikel Arteta will be relieved to have the quartet available for selection for their New Year’s Day clash against Manchester City, who will now have Riyad Mahrez available for selection.

It is expected that 39 players in total will be heading off to AFCON to link up with their international teams for the month-long tournament, which begins on January 9.

Crystal Palace have been handed a reprieve with four members of their squad leaving, while Watford stand to be the most heavily impacted by the tournament schedule, with five members of their current squad taking part.

Only four clubs are not likely to be affected, with Leeds, Newcastle, Norwich and Tottenham the only teams without eligible players for participation.

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