Africa Cup of Nations: The 11 SPFL players, past and present, taking part this month

Scottish football will only see three players depart these shores to play an active part in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) which begins on Sunday, January 9 this year.

Willis Furtado celebrates a Raith Rovers equaliser against Airdrie.  (Pic: George McCluskie)
Willis Furtado celebrates a Raith Rovers equaliser against Airdrie. (Pic: George McCluskie)

The biennial tournament is this year in Cameroon and concludes with the final on Sunday, February 6.

While there are only three players missing domestic action – spread evenly with one from each of the top three divisions in the cinch SPFL no less – there are nine more reasons for Scottish football fans to take an interest in the competition with several familiar faces.

Here we take a look at those we know – and who we knew – who will be among the action over the coming month.

Joe Aribo could miss half a dozen Rangers games if Nigeria progress. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

David Moyo (Hamilton Academical)

Harare-born striker Moyo has hit four goals in the cinch Scottish Championship this season – but he’ll be confident of finding the net for the first time on international duty when he adds to his five caps for Zimbabwe. The Warriors have been grouped with tournament favourites Senegal, Malawi and Guinea and are hopeful of progress, however they will need to redress their World Cup qualifying form which has Moyo’s side bottom of their qualifying group.

The powerful forward has been the focal point of attack in recent appearances, a 1-0 defeat to South Africa and a 1-1 draw with Ethiopia, but will need to find the net for hopes of progress.

Joe Aribo (Rangers)

Saidy Janko joined Celtic in 2015. (Photo by Jeff Holmes/Getty Images)

A big player for Rangers, a big miss for Giovanni van Bronckhorst, but a big asset for the Super Eagles this month. Aribo, on current form, is poised to be one of the stars of AFCON.

The midfielder’s footwork has been admired over his three years in Glasgow but now, having added more strength to his physique and even more technical dimensions to his game, he is in line to go far in the tournament with the three-time winners.

Progress could be bittersweet for Rangers fans hoping to see him excel though as the final falls after the rescheduled Old Firm match and even qualifying for the semi-finals would result in the 25-year-old missing five games for his club.

Fernandy Mendy (Alloa Athletic)

Uncapped and in line to face Mohamed Salah a day before his 28th birthday, the Guinea-Bissau defender described his international call-up as an early Christmas gift.

A late addition to his national side as injury cover, former Raith Rovers defender Mendy has swapped his cinch League One campaign in Clackmannanshire for Cameroon and has been pitched into a tough group alongside Aribo’s Nigeria, Sudan, and Egypt inspired by Liverpool’s 23-goal forward Salah.

If he plays he will set a new record as Alloa’s first capped player – quite the rise for the defender, who had a previous loan spell at Kelty Hearts.

Players from the past

The trio are not alone in having SPFL experience. A further eight players have also played, or in one case trained, with Scottish clubs while there is a Scotland influence in the dugout too.

Celtic

Three former Parkhead players are among the squad lists for the AFCON – but have a combined 29 games between them in the Hoops from their time in Scotland.

Potentially recognisable names as Kundai Benyu, Mubarak Wakaso and Saidy Janko – they were infrequently seen for the then Scottish champions and Ghana's 65-capped Wakaso now finds himself in China with Shenzen and Benyu turning out for Icelandic side Vestri as well as Zimbabwe.

Janko, who played 20 times for Celtic over two years, has recently declared for Gambia having progressed through the Swiss national team’s youth levels. They are in a group with Mali, Mauritania and Tunisia.

Rangers

As well as keeping an eye on Nigeria due to Joe Aribo, there will be interested Ibrox eyes on Umar Sadiq too. The loan striker was an almighty flop in Scotland but has since become one of the most coveted strikers in Europe with his form for Almeria in Spain. Sadiq will be in the mix for the Super Eagles alongside his one-time colleague.

Another who has kicked on after a disappointing loan at Ibrox is Lassana Coulibaly – now at Salernitana in Serie A, the Mali midfielder will be looking to add to his 20 caps in Group F.

Madjid Bougherra, a title-winning defender during Walter Smith’s second spell as Rangers manager, is one of the Algeria national team coaches, responsible for the country’s intermediate side.

Steven Caulker, Riyad Mahrez and Willis Furtado

Outside of the Old Firm and current trio, Scottish football is also represented by three players with backgrounds on these shores.

Steven Caulker played 17 games for Dundee and previously picked up an international cap for England, but only in a friendly, leaving him open to switch national team allegiance. Having flirted with the option of international football with Scotland – via his grandmother – the defender has now declared for Sierra Leone through his grandfather and is playing his football in Turkey with Fenerbahce, though currently on loan at Gaizantep.

Lesser-known winger Willis Furtado is another former SPFL player who will step into the limelight in Cameroon, with the Cape Verde national team, ranked 73rd in the world.

Furtado burst onto the Scottish scene as a student, playing with Stenhousemuir and went on to win contracts at Airdrie and Raith Rovers, amassing 68 games and 17 goals in Scotland and now plays in the Norwegian second division.

Grouped with hosts Cameroon and Burkina Faso, they kick off on matchday one against Ethiopia.

A slightly more spurious link to Scottish football comes via Riyad Mahrez. The Manchester City EPL-champion midfielder may not have played a competitive game in Scotland but he is widely believed to have trained as a trialist with St Mirren before going on to glory with Leicester and Pep Guardiola’s side. It remains to be seen if he can add international honours over the next month.

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