ACON Headaches Hit For First Time
The Cup of Nations is renowned for two things - being a showcase for African football as the continent continues to emerge as the new force of global talent; and for providing a headache every two years as hundreds of players depart the world's elite leagues each winter for up to a month.
Sunderland, to date, have been unaffected by previous tournaments. We had no representatives at the 2015 or 2013 event. In fact, Asamoah Gyan was our last player to compete in the Cup of Nations but even that was when he was loaned out at UAE side Al-Ain.
So with a threadbare squad already, the potential loss of four senior players is significant. David Moyes has suggested he isn't fazed by it - but then he would say that. The competition runs from January 14th with the final on February 5th.
But, it's the timing of pre-tournament training camps and warm-up matches which varies between each nation and certain players representing certain countries will be missing earlier and potentially for longer.
Here's what we know so far.
Wahbi Khazri - Tunisia
Barring injury, Wahbi Khazri will certainly feature at the Cup of Nations. He is one of Tunisia's biggest names and most talented players.
The Tunisian squad are gathering in Spain during the Christmas holiday week for a seven-day training camp between 25th and 31st December. Sunderland have already prevented midfielder Khazri from joining up with his countrymen for this one, preferring to have him available for the Boxing Day clash with Manchester United and New Years Eve fixture against Burnley.
From there, the Tunisians will head to Tunis for a friendly match with Uganda on January 4th and a fixture against Egypt four days later. Wahbi Khazri will certainly line up with his teammates for those games meaning he is one who will essentially depart early.
Tunisia's first game of ACON 2017 is on the 15th January against Senegal. The final Tunisian 23-man squad for the tournament will be announced on January 5th.
Khazri Available for: Man Utd (a) 26th Dec; Burnley (a) 31st Dec; Liverpool (h) 2nd Jan
Khazri Missing for: Burnley FA Cup (h) 7th Jan, Stoke (h) 14th Jan, West Brom (h) 21st Jan
Khazri May be missing for: Tottenham (h) 31st Jan, Crystal Palace (a) 4th Feb
Lamine Kone - Ivory Coast
Another star man for his country, Lamine Kone, will likely resume his partnership with Manchester United's Eric Bailly at the heart of the Ivorian central defence during the tournament.
As we've previously reported, the Ivory Coast will assemble their squad on 2nd January which has caused some consternation amongst Premier League teams. However, it appears requests have already been received from clubs to excuse their players from the opening days of the two-week gathering as there is a full domestic fixture list that day.
The Ivory Coast have an arranged friendly with Uganda on 11th January and, notably, have a fixture against Zimbabwe on Boxing Day. Will Lamine Kone then be missing for our post-Christmas match against Manchester United on 26th?
Available for: Burnley (a) 31st Dec
Missing for: Burnley FA Cup (h) 7th Jan, Stoke (h) 14th Jan, West Brom (h) 21st Jan
May be missing for: Man Utd (a) 26th Dec; Liverpool (h) 2nd Jan; Tottenham (h) 31st Jan, Crystal Palace (a) 4th Feb
Didier Ndong - Gabon
There's a chance Ndong won't even be selected following his failure to turn up when supposed to as the Gabonese squad prepared for a match against Mali last month.
However, with the young Sunderland midfielder swiftly issuing an apology and with some apparent genuine reasons, there's little realistic prospect that the Gabonese Football Federation - already under enormous pressure just hosting the tournament - will choose to not pick their best midfielder.
Hosts Gabon commence their preparations for the Cup of Nations with a friendly against - you guessed it - Uganda on 29th December.
No other information has yet been announced in the country which recently appointed a new coach at the eleventh hour before the tournament, has warded off strikes in its domestic league from unpaid players, is panicking over half-built stadiums, is bracing itself for political demonstrations focused on the tournament, and has already lost one player who has refused to turn out for his nation - apparently in protest at the state of his country.
Expect further dates to be added soon which may whisk Ndong away sooner than mid-January.
Available for: Man Utd (a) 26th Dec; Burnley (a) 31st Dec; Liverpool (h) 2nd Jan
Missing for: Stoke (h) 14th Jan; West Brom (h) 21st Jan
May be missing for: Burnley FA Cup (h) 7th Jan; Tottenham (h) 31st Jan, Crystal Palace (a) 4th Feb
Papy Djilobodji - Senegal
The Sunderland centre-half has an outside chance of being selected for the tournament. Some outlets have claimed David Moyes is reeling from the suggestion Djilobodji's upturn in form in the Premier League - which deserted him again on Saturday - will see him join his central defensive colleague, Lamine Kone, at the Cup of Nations.
But Djilobodji hasn't been a part of a Senegal squad for over a year and there are tensions between him and coach, Aliou Cisse. Indeed the 27-year-old is just one member of a group of players continually excluded from his national team under the coach who has been in post since 2015.
There are in fact several players within the obvious group who join Djilobodji in not featuring in Cisse's plans - including Cheikh Mbengue of Saint-Etienne, Lamine Sane of Werder Bremen, Boukary Drame of Atalanta. Add to that list Papiss Cisse and last season's loanee, Dame N'Doye, and you get some picture of the scale of the fallout.
And then further factor Djilobodji's fellow centre-halves who have also been missing from recent squads - Diawandou Diagne who is signed to Barcelona and Salif Sane of Hannover 96 - and a recall for the Sunderland man looks unlikely at this stage
However, after Senegal's most recent defeat, Cisse, did suggest he would rethink some of his 'certainties'. Watch this space.