HIBERNIAN have been granted special dispensation by Congo to field their top goalscorer Dominique Malonga in the crunch New Year derby against runaway Championship leaders Hearts.
The Paris-born forward has been named in Claude Le Roy’s initial 26-man squad for the Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, which runs from 17 January to 8 February.
Le Roy has told his players to arrive at the pre-tournament training camp in the nation’s capital, Brazzaville, on 2 January – just 24 hours before Hibs face their arch rivals at Tynecastle.
However, the Congolese Football Federation have allowed the striker to report for duty behind schedule, with Malonga now set to depart after the Gorgie showdown with Hearts.
Congo will travel to Senegal for a friendly against Cape Verde on 10 January before returning to Brazzaville three days later to wrap up preparations for the competition.
Malonga’s availability is a big boost for the capital club, with the 25-year-old having already bagged 11 goals this term following his summer arrival from Siena.
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However, he could still miss fixtures against Falkirk, Cowdenbeath, Queen of the South and Arbroath during a four-week absence, depending on Congo’s progress in the tournament.
Speaking ahead of Malonga’s call-up, Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs said: “It’s wonderful for this club if we have an international player who is representing his country. It would be fantastic for one of our players to play in a tournament like the Africa Cup of Nations. I’d like more of our players to represent their country. That tells you that we’re doing the right things – they wouldn’t get recognition if they were not playing well. We have other players who could step up.
“Football works in mysterious ways – as one door closes another one will open for other players.”
Stubbs has been busy preparing his side for another crucial Championship match, against Rangers tomorrow.
Rangers head to Easter Road after another chaotic week – which began with Ally McCoist stepping down as manager and being placed on “gardening leave”, and a stormy annual general meeting at Ibrox on Monday which saw directors heckled and jeered throughout.
It has emerged that McCoist’s temporary replacement Kenny McDowall could turn to Rangers’ loan players to freshen up his squad.
With the club facing an £8.3 million shortfall, the 51-year-old is unlikely to be given the resources to bring in fresh blood next month. But new first-team coach Gordon Durie – who swaps roles with the demoted Ian Durrant – said McDowall may now recall some of the eight Rangers youngsters who have been farmed out to other clubs this season.
Winger Barrie McKay has been sent to Raith Rovers, while midfielders Robbie Crawford and Calum Gallagher are at Greenock Morton and Cowdenbeath respectively. Canadian defender Luca Gasparotto is playing with Airdrieonians, Craig Halkett for Clyde and Tom Walsh is at Stenhousemuir.
Stranraer have taken Danny Stoney while Kyle McAusland is at Brechin City.
Durie said: “We have got boys out on loan and as a staff we will sit down and decide whether we are going to bring anyone back or not. The reports that we have had back have been very positive. So hopefully they will come back ready to battle for a place in the first team.”
David Somers told Monday’s AGM that Rangers are determined to bridge the “chasm” that existed between the club’s youth set-up and the first team.
Durie warned that would not be as easy as the chairman made it sound, but he hopes the young players’ loan stints will help them make the grade. Durie said: “It’s never easy for young boys to play at the Old Firm.
“But we thought it would be better for them to go out and play against boys of a higher level than they have played against before.”
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