Rangers set for crunch talks over availability of key trio for Celtic clash

Rangers are set for talks with the Nigerian Football Federation in a bid to ensure they are not without three key players for their new year derby showdown with Celtic on January 2.

Joe Aribo is among three Rangers players who could miss the Celtic new year derby due to the African Cup of Nations. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Joe Aribo is among three Rangers players who could miss the Celtic new year derby due to the African Cup of Nations. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Leon Balogun, Joe Aribo and Calvin Bassey are all in contention to be called up to the Nigeria squad ahead of the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

The Super Eagles’ first match is against Egypt on January 9 in Garoua, seven days after Rangers are due to travel to Celtic Park for Giovanni van Bronckhorst's first Old Firm fixture since taking charge.

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Fifa regulations stipulate that players must be released by their clubs on 27 December, however, Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr revealed last month that previous Rangers manager Steven Gerrard had requested a delayed call-up for the Ibrox trio until after all Scottish domestic fixtures had been completed prior to the winter break.

Another former Rangers boss, Mark Warburton, who now manages Queens Park Rangers in the English Championship, is also seeking permission for three of his players to remain with his squad until after their match against promotion rivals Bournemouth on December 27.

Ilias Chair, Seny Dieng and Osman Kakay are all set to be included in the Morocco, Senegal and Sierra Leone squads respectively, and Warbarton revealed that clubs should get answers this week with Fifa indicating that it will be up to individual associations to give approval for late arrivals.

"From what I understand, the directive from the world governing body is that you have to have individual phone calls and arrangements and try and see what you can do," Warbarton said.

"All we can do is speak to the respective associations and try and work with them and we will hopefully get confirmation very soon.

"We have had a game against Bournemouth moved from the 26th to the 27th, which now can potentially be very damaging for us and we have to do what we can to resolve that issue.

"We have to work with them. At the end of the day people talk about associations and countries, but their managers and coaches have to win games and are judged by the games they win and I get that.

"We fully understand it is a two-way arrangement. We have always been very good with the associations giving our players every opportunity to impress at international level so I hope the fairness we have demonstrated over the last few months will be reciprocated."

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In addition to possibly missing the Celtic game, Balogun, Aribo and Bassey would be potentially ruled out of four Rangers fixtures depending on how far Nigeria progress in the Africa Cup of Nations.

The tournament starts on January 9 with the final due to be played on February 6, and in that time Rangers are at home to Livingston on January 26, away to Ross County on January 29 and at home to Hearts on February 5.

The Ibrox men also have a Scottish Cup tie at home to Stirling Albion on January 22/23.

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