Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis and fellow striker Victor Osimhen have both dropped out of Nigeria’s squad for the Africa Cup of Nations, which begins on 9 January in Cameroon.
The Hornets have reportedly refused to release Dennis, who has scored eight Premier League goals this season, while Osimhen has been ruled out following a positive Covid-19 test.
The 23-year-old Napoli striker is also still recovering from facial fractures which he sustained in November, an injury which was initially expected to rule him out of the tournament.
A statement from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) said Dennis had been excused from duty because Watford were “baring fangs”.
Dennis, 24, will now be available for Watford’s league games against fellow strugglers Newcastle and Norwich next month, as well as their FA Cup third round tie at Leicester City.
The pair have been replaced by Sparta Prague striker Peter Olayinka and Olympiakos forward Henry Onyekuru, while the Super Eagles have also been forced to make two changes in defence.
Rangers defender Leon Balogun and Cyprus-based Abdullahi Shehu have both been replaced by West Brom’s Semi Ajayi and Tyronne Ebuehi of Italian Serie A side Venezia.
Super Eagles hit by Covid and administrative issues
Despite being keen to travel to Cameroon for the continental showpiece event, Osimhen officially informed interim coach Augustine Eguavoen about his decision to pull out of the tournament on Thursday.
His latest coronavirus problem and Napoli’s reluctance to release him for the Nations Cup led to the player sending an official letter of withdrawal.
“He just felt he was not in the right of mind, physically and psychologically to play for Nigeria with all that is going on right now,” a top NFF official told BBC Sport Africa.
Dennis, who was not part of Nigeria’s initial 37-man provisional squad submitted by former coach Gernot Rohr, was only added to the 40-man party in December.
His inclusion in the final squad led to Watford manager Claudio Ranieri revealing that the club could refuse to release him for the tournament.
Ranieri added that Nigeria missed a deadline to advise the Premier League club that the forward was being considered for selection.
BBC Sport Africa understands the NFF conceded that it may have left it late and is in a weaken position in the quest for Dennis to travel to Cameroon.
The three-time African champions, who have appointed Portuguese Jose Peseiro as their permanent coach, are in Group D along with Egypt, Guinea-Bissau and Sudan.
They open their campaign against the Pharaohs in Garoua on 11 January.
More positive tests as Choupo Moting awaits scan results
Meanwhile, Cameroon forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has suffered an injury scare and the hosts are the latest country to announce several coronavirus cases.
Choupo-Moting, 32, is awaiting the results of a scan after he left a training session early because of a knee issue.
The Cameroon Football Federation said Pierre Kunde Malong, Jean Efala, Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui and Christian Bassogog had been under observation since Wednesday because of “strong suspicions” they had the virus, and the quartet will continue to quarantine.
The Indomitable Lions face Burkina Faso in the first game of the tournament on 9 January.
Elsewhere, fellow Group A contenders Cape Verde have had seven players – including all three of their goalkeepers – and an assistant coach test positive.
Holders Algeria and Ivory Coast have also reported cases at their training camps in Qatar and Saudi Arabia respectively.