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Africa's World Cup qualifiers hard-hit by Premier League's 'red zone' rule

Mohamed Salah was originally denied leave by Liverpool for Egypt's World Cup qualifiers, but may now play in the second fixture. Visionhaus

Africa kicks off the group phase of its World Cup qualifiers on Wednesday with countries having to juggle their line-ups because of the refusal of British clubs to release some of their best players for some matches.

Most come from the Premier League, which refused permission for players to head to countries on the British government's COVID-19 red list because they would be forced to quarantine for 10 days upon their return.

Egypt must do without talisman Mohamed Salah for their home match against Angola on Friday but could use him away against Gabon next week, though original reports a week ago said the Reds had refused to release him at all.

His Liverpool team mates Sadio Mane and Naby Keita are playing in countries on the amber list and are therefore available for Senegal and Guinea respectively in both their scheduled qualifiers over the next seven days.

Nigeria have a full contingent at home against Liberia on Friday but for a more difficult Group C game away to the Cape Verde Islands on Tuesday must do without eight players based in England and Scotland, including midfield general Wilfred Ndidi and his Leicester City team mate Kelechi Iheanacho because the archipelago is on the red list.

Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr told ESPN this week that he had been forced to call up nearly an entirely new team for the second fixture, and that the integrity of the qualifiers were being put at risk by this ruling.

He said: "It is difficult to understand why England is giving exception to the Euro but not for the other World Cup games.

"They could do everything for the Euro where England participated but nothing for the World Cup players. It is very important for each country who has ambitions to qualify and this kind of decision will tarnish the competition."

Ghana will have five English-based players available for their Group G home match on Friday against Ethiopia but they cannot then travel to red-listed South Africa for their next game on Monday.

The Ivory Coast, who dropped both Wilfried Zaha and Nicolas Pepe, cannot use Eric Bailly of Manchester United or Serge Aurier of Tottenham for their first game in Mozambique on Friday but they will be available for the crunch Group D game against Cameroon in Abidjan on Monday.

"We've been under continual pressure from clubs not to select their players. In March it was the French clubs who refused and now it's the English," said Ivory Coast coach Patrice Beaumelle.

"I'm tired of the whole affair and I think it's uncalled for because everything is well organised these days with regular testing, safe travel and closed stadiums to minimise any risk," he told Reuters on Monday.

The match between the Ivorians, who won the African Cup of Nations in 2015, and Cameroon, who succeeded them two years later, is the pick of the games in the first two rounds of qualifying, which runs from Wednesday to Tuesday, Sept. 7.

The 40 countries are divided into 10 groups of four with only the winners advancing to two-legged playoffs in March, which will decide the five African teams for Qatar 2022.

This is just the latest complication for African nations, after eight teams were denied home fixtures after their stadia were deemed insufficient. As such, they have been forced to play at neutral venues, though many are without fans die to coronavirus so the loss of advantage may be minimal.