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Africa CON Absentees, Khazri Impresses & Kirchhoff In, But No Ndong

In today's Roker Roundup: With the final line up for the Africa Cup of Nations now confirmed, Sunderland are likely to have three players called up by their international sides for the tournament. One of them, Whabi Khazri impressed for Tunisia last night and we look ahead to Rochdale v SAFC.

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Sunderland Face Winter Without Cup of Nations Representatives

The qualifying rounds for the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN 2017) concluded last night and Sunderland will likely be missing three players during the tournament.

The sixteen teams that will compete in the finals of the competition are Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Morocco, Uganda, DR Congo, Senegal, Togo, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.

The tournament runs from the 4th of January to the 5th of February and is to be held in Gabon. It will mean that selected Sunderland players will miss as many as five Premier League matches.

Likely affected games will be the home ties against Liverpool, Stoke and Spurs as well as a trip to West Bromwich Albion and possibly the February away game against Crystal Palace should any of the teams make it as far as the final.

Affected Sunderland players are likely to be:

  • Didier Ndong for Gabon
  • Whabi Khazri for Tunisia
  • Lamine Kone for Côte d'Ivoire

Papy Djilobodji may have a chance of a call up for Senegal if he can force his way into the reckoning with a good first half of the season for Sunderland too.

Khazri Leads Tunisia to Qualification

Sporting a new bulked up figure, Sunderland’s attacking midfielder Whabi Khazri led Tunisia to qualification for CAN2017. Khazri opened the scoring in a 4-1 victory against Liberia with a 5th minute strike.

The 25 year old took full advantage of poor defending to score his ninth goal in twenty four international appearances.

He was directly involved in another two of the host’s goals in front of 8,500 spectators. The Tunisian Football Federation had granted free entry to female fans, presumably in a bid to lighten the mood in a country which has been blighted by some issues of crowd unrest in recent times.

The Tunisian’s third goal was a direct result of a Khazri shot rebounding off the Liberian goalkeeper and the fourth was a penalty awarded for a foul on the Sunderland man. The Liberian 'keeper had a nightmare and at times looked like he was hankering for £500 off You’ve Been Framed, but it was great to see Whabs looking confident on international duty.

Khazri has played just twenty five minutes of first team football in Sunderland’s three fixtures so far this season, and those only came in the opener against Manchester City. Some had wondered if he might be on his way out of the Stadium of Light in the transfer window, but David Moyes had insisted he would remain in a red and white shirt.

Khazri fans will be hoping this performance is a sign of things to come and personally I would like to see one of our journalist colleagues ask Moyes for an update in this week’s press conference as to how he sees the Tunisian featuring this season and if there has been any concerns over his conditioning since his return from the close season break.

Stockdale’s Stock Keeps On Rising, The Return of Jan, Ndong's Debut Will Wait

Speaking to the Sunderland Echo, David Moyes confirmed that Robbie Stockdale will take charge of the EFL Trophy game tomorrow evening against Rochdale. He will be assisted in the dug-out by Under-23 coach Andy Welsh. Moyes and assistant Paul Bracewell will take to the stands to watch the game.

Controversial changes to the old Associate Members Cup see Premier League and Championship Under-23 sides participating for the first time alongside League One and League Two outfits. Sunderland have to field six players who are 21 or under.

Now branded the Check-A-Trade Trophy, the new format is currently billed as a ‘pilot’ and so far attendances have been rather pitiful. The vast majority of crowds in the games which have been played to date have failed to hit the 1000 mark, so Rochdale may be looking forward to seeing a few North Eastern faces make their way to Greater Manchester for a night out tomorrow.

From a Sunderland perspective, the tie demonstrates the rise and rise of Robbie Stockdale, whose standing continues to grow both at the club and in the game generally.

Tipped for a bright future by Sam Allardyce, Stockdale has now been at Sunderland for four years and was promoted to first team duties by Big Sam last year. During the summer vacuum caused by Allardyce being courted by England (or vice versa), Sunderland’s senior players were said to be keen to see him continue his role under any successor.

It would be no surprise to start hearing Stockdale’s name being mentioned in relation to future football league managerial vacancies and the 36-year old shows a clear commitment to modern coaching methods by rocking an ear-piece in a manner that would leave his otherwise elder peers in the game resembling middle-aged taxi drivers.

The Rochdale game should also see the return to first team action of Jan Kirchhoff. Sunderland’s official website has confirmed that the big German will feature tomorrow night.

Local media are also reporting that Didier Ndong may make his debut, but as Gabon are playing an international friendly tomorrow night in Cameroon, it is likely this will not be the case as Sunderland's new record signing has been named in Les Panthères squad.

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