The outcome of this season’s English Premier League title race will be shaped by a tournament taking place 13 000 kilometres away in South Africa.
The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on January 19 when hosts South Africa tackle Cape Verde in Johannesburg and a few sides in the English top flight will have their squads untouched by the competition.
Defending champions Manchester City already have a seven-point gap on leaders Manchester United to chase down and their cause will not be helped by the absences of brothers Kolo and Yaya Toure, who play for the Ivory Coast.
The Ivory Coast’s qualification will affect clubs at all levels of the table. Wigan Athletic stand to lose top scorer Arouna Kone and Newcastle United will be without key midfielder Cheick Tiote, while Arsenal lose Gervinho.
However, Senegal’s failure to qualify means that Demba Ba will be free to focus on adapting to life at Chelsea, while his former Newcastle teammate Papiss Cisse will be staying put at St James’ Park.
Morocco coach Rachid Taoussi, meanwhile, has smiled on Queens Park Rangers and West Ham by overlooking mercurial QPR midfielder Adel Taarabt and the Hammers’ on-loan Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh.
Chelsea will lose Nigerian pair John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses, both of whom have emerged as key first-team players under interim manager Rafael Benitez.
Confusion surrounded the participation of Tottenham Hotspur striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who was named in the Togo squad for the competition despite his differences with the Togolese Football Federation.
Adebayor has had to play second-fiddle to Jermain Defoe at White Hart Lane this season, but although his absence would leave Andre Villas-Boas with only one true striker at his disposal, the Spurs manager is happy for him to go.