More players dump Afcon

STEVEN Pienaar has set a trend by effectively withdrawing from the Nations Cup. Other African footballers, who play in Europe, are also turning their back on the tournament.

This is likely to further raise the ire of SA Football Association vice-president Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana, who is also chairman of the Afcon organising committee. Ghana great Michael Essien (Real Madrid); Togo's most acclaimed player, Emmanuel Adebayor (Tottenham Hotspur); and Mali's Samba Diakite (Queens Park Rangers) have signified their intention to miss the South Africa-based tournament.

Nonkonyana blasted Pienaar as "selfish and egotistical" after imploring him to reconsider his retirement from international football. Nonkonyana's plea is also in contrast with the earlier statement by Safa indicating that "Pienaar had served Bafana in the past and was entitled to decide his own future".

Bafana coach Gordon Igesund also put a dampener on this possibility after a recent meeting with Pienaar in England, saying bluntly "he won't be playing in the Afcon".

Essien, on loan to Spanish champions Real Madrid from Chelsea, says he is at a vital stage of his career and needs to establish his future at club level, having suffered in the past because of his international matches.

Adebayor has lambasted the Togolese football administration and vowed not to play at international level again. And relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers are doing all they can not to lose Diakite during the Afcon in January and February.

A Fifa edict stipulates that clubs must release players for continental club tournaments, but this rule can be circumvented if a player retires from international competition.

Newcastle United earlier said they would do all they could not to release star Senegal strikers Papiss Demba Cissé and Demba Ba for the Afcon. The threat, however, fell away when Senegal failed to qualify.

But the disconcerting misgiving of Afcon and Safa officials is that the withdrawal of star attractions from the blue riband event of African soccer might not yet have come to an end.