Based on players who have already earned senior international caps for their respective nations, up to 28 players from the Sky Bet EFL could be heading to AFCON in January; tournament takes place in the Ivory Coast from January 13 to February 11
Tuesday 2 January 2024 14:20, UK
The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations starts on Saturday January 13, when hosts Ivory Coast take on Guinea-Bissau in Abidjan.
The 34th edition of the tournament will last two days short of a month and end where it began - at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium - on Sunday February 11.
In February 2022, Sadio Mane put an early penalty miss behind him to score the winning spot-kick as Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time following a 4-2 penalty shootout victory.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced in September that teams must submit their final squad lists by the deadline of January 3, 10 days before the opening match of the tournament.
Taking into account players who have already represented their respective nations on the international stage - and those who have recently been called up for the first time - as many as 28 players from clubs who play in the Sky Bet Championship, League One and League Two could be absent from domestic football at the start of the year.
So who are they? Here, we take a look...
Leicester's Kelechi Iheanacho is likely to be a key player for Nigeria at AFCON. The 27-year-old has started the Championship season well, with eight goals for club and country in 21 games, including one in the 1-1 draw with Zimbabwe on November 19. His 15th international goal makes him the nation's 10th-highest scorer of all time; he needs just seven more to move second - unless Victor Osimhen gets there first.
Despite being only 26, the second potential Leicester representative - Wilfred Ndidi - is one of the most experienced members of the Super Eagles' squad, with 54 caps to his name, having been handed his debut vs DR Congo in October 2015, aged 18. However, injury prevented him from adding to that figure in November; he has not played for the Foxes since October 21, as of November 22. If selected, this would be Ndidi's third time at AFCON.
West Brom's Semi Ajayi has become one of the first names on the teamsheet under Jose Peseiro. After playing 90 minutes in the draws with Lesotho and Zimbabwe, the 30-year-old has now earned 28 caps since his debut against the Seychelles in September 2019.
Joe Aribo, 27, has also earned 28 caps since he made his senior debut against Ukraine in September 2019. The Southampton forward played in three of Nigeria's four matches at AFCON 2021 and played the entirety of the aforementioned 1-1 draw with Zimbabwe.
Stockport left-back Ibou Touray - who qualifies for Gambia through his dad - made his international debut in a 1-1 draw with Uganda all the way back in 2015, but it was not until 2021 that he started to feature regularly at international level. The 28-year-old was part of the squad that reached the quarter-finals of the tournament's previous edition and has 19 caps to his name.
Cardiff's Ebou Adams, 27, was also part of the squad that reached the quarter-finals in 2022, but he did not feature for his country for the best part of 18 months after that; a rare torn pectoral muscle and subsequent knee injury kept him out of action for the entirety of 2022/23. He has since returned to the international fold and earned his 15th cap in the 2-0 defeat to the Ivory Coast on November 20.
Wrexham's Jacob Mendy had been called up on three occasions across the last five months, but it was not until the aforementioned defeat to the Ivory Coast that the 26-year-old made his international debut. He played until the 92nd minute of the game, which was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Swindon's Saidou Khan, 27, has also been called up twice since May, but is yet to make his debut.
Southampton forward Kamaldeen Sulemana, 21, made his Ghana debut aged 18 in October 2020 and has earned 18 caps in total to date, two of which came against South Korea and Uruguay at the World Cup in Qatar. His most recent appearance for the Black Stars came in the goalless draw with Madagascar in June.
Abdul Fatawu is making a name for himself during his loan spell at Leicester this term and, if selected for the January tournament, will have appeared at AFCON twice before his 20th birthday. The 19-year-old played in all three of Ghana's group matches early last year and also featured as a substitute in a 2-0 defeat to Uruguay at the World Cup. He was introduced as a late substitute in the 1-0 defeat to Comoros on November 21.
Reading's Andy Yiadom has earned 26 caps since his debut in January 2017, but the 31-year-old has not been called up since June 2022 and was not included in the squad for last year's World Cup.
Mamadi Camara was called up by Guinea-Bissau last March and quickly earned his first two caps by playing 90 minutes in friendlies against Equatorial Guinea and Angola. The 19-year-old Reading forward featured against Sao Tome and Principe the following month, but though he has been selected since, he is yet to add to his three caps.
Carlos Mendes Gomes was born in Senegal to parents of Bissau-Guinean and Gambian heritage and moved to Spain as a child, before turning professional with Morecambe in 2018. The winger, 25, has since played for Luton, Fleetwood and, since the summer, Bolton. He was called up to the Guinea-Bissau squad for the first time in November and made his debut in the 1-0 win over Djibouti on November 20.
The third EFL player who could feature for Guinea-Bissau at AFCON is Accrington's Baba Fernandes. The 23-year-old defender - who earned two caps for Portugal's U17s in 2016 - made his senior international debut in a win over Sierra Leone in September, but is yet to play for his club this season.
Junior Tchamadeu does not even turn 20 until three days before Christmas, but he already had two full seasons of senior football under his belt before he joined Stoke in the summer. The London-born defender's rise continued when he was called up by Rigobert Song for the first time in November. He made his debut in the 3-0 win over Mauritius on November 17 and played just under an hour of the 1-1 draw with Libya four days later.
Another British-born prospect who has switched his allegiance is Reading's Ben Elliott. The midfielder spent 12 years at Chelsea's academy - during which time he featured for England's U15s and U16s - before joining Reading in August. The 21-year-old made his international debut when he came on for Brentford's Bryan Mbeumo against Mexico in June and has made three more brief appearances since.
Having moved to the UK aged four in 2002, Grady Diangana was eligible to play for England - and he earned three youth caps between 2018 and 2019, before switching his allegiance to the country of his birth earlier this year. The West Brom winger, 25, was handed his debut by head coach Sebastien Desabre against New Zealand in October and earned his second cap in the 1-0 defeat to Sudan on November 19.
Watford's Edo Kayembe made his DR Congo debut in October 2019, but it was not until late 2021 that he became a regular fixture in Les Leopards' setup. The 25-year-old - who has 17 senior caps to his name - was an unused substitute against Mauritania and Sudan in November.
French-born midfielder Imran Louza earned youth caps for both Morocco and France during his time at hometown club Nantes, but pledged his allegiance to the former shortly after joining Watford in the summer of 2021 and has earned 14 caps since over the last two years, the last of which came in a 2-1 defeat to South Africa in June.
Ilias Chair came into the international fold around a month before Louza. The QPR playmaker featured once at AFCON at the beginning of 2022 and was part of the Atlas Lions' squad for the World Cup in Qatar. The 26-year-old's most recent cap was earned after a 14-minute cameo in the goalless draw against Cape Verde in June.
Stoke midfielder Mehdi Leris, 25 - a summer signing from Sampdoria - has earned four caps for Algeria since his debut last November, while left-sided Huddersfield player Charles Ondo, 20, earned his first senior cap for Equatorial Guinea against Libya in September and Hull's Adama Traore, 28, has been a regular member of the Mali squad since 2015.
Derby's Ryan Nyambe has 14 caps for Namibia, Hull's Jean Michael Seri earned his 46th cap for the Ivory Coast in the 2-0 win over Gambia on November 20 and Ipswich captain Sam Morsy has appeared nine times for Egypt.
Elsewhere, Leicester's Patson Daka - who has made only two appearances for the Foxes so far this term - has scored 18 goals in 40 appearances for Zambia and Middlesbrough goalkeeper Seny Dieng has five Senegal caps, though he earned the last in September 2022.
At this moment in time, there are set to be no EFL representatives from the following nations: Angola, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Guinea, Mauritania, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania or Tunisia.
Sky Sports will have a full, comprehensive of those heading to the tournament once the squads have been announced ahead of the tournament's start on January 13.