KINSHASA Bournemouth striker Benik Afobe has pulled out of the African Nations Cup finals to stay with his Premier League team despite recently switching his allegiance from England to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Congolese football federation (Fecofa) on Monday confirmed Afobe's withdrawal from a 31-man preliminary squad, who have gathered in Yaounde, Cameroon for pre-tournament preparations.
"Afobe has forfeited from the tournament," said media officer Gerard-Desire Angengwa without offering any reason. British media reported that Afobe had told the Congolese coach Florent Ibenge he wished to consolidate his place in the Bournemouth starting line-up after scoring against Swansea City in a 3-0 away win on Saturday. "The manager showed faith in me by starting me and I wanted to repay him with a goal, so I'm happy," the 23-year-old told his club's website (www.afcb.co.uk) after the victory on New Year's eve.
"The goal was a great relief and a goal at a crucial time. The lads have been helping me a lot and I want to improve personally."
Afobe now has two goals in his last three starts for the Cherries but could be banned from playing for his club for the duration of the three-week tournament, which starts on Jan. 14, if the Congolese federation take up the issue with FIFA. Afobe's decision comes less than two months after receiving FIFA's permission belatedly to switch his international allegiance after previously playing for England at the under-21 level.
He was supposed to debut for the Congolese in November's World Cup qualifier at Guinea but was stymied when the Football Association sent his paperwork for the switch of nationality to the wrong federation, embarrassingly mixing up DR Congo with neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville. Afobe had been left frustrated after flying all the way to Africa to find he was not eligible to play, permission coming too late after the mix-up in London was discovered. DR Congo have a tough group at the tournament in Gabon, competing with holders Ivory Coast, Morocco and Togo in Group C. Their opening game is against Morocco in Oyem on Jan. 16.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)