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Refused to play? Looks like Kone was injured after all; Youngster on his Sunderland future & more

With an Ivory Coast match scheduled for tonight, reports in Africa suggest Lamine Kone is still injured following his withdrawal from the Sunderland squad which played Chelsea ten days ago. That's despite widespread reports that he refused to play that day. Plus some other tid bits of news that aren't related to the Black Cats' manager hunt.

Sunderland v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

European Under-21 squads take shape

Whilst there may be no senior international tournament to occupy football fans this summer, the European Under-21 Championships take place in Poland starting next month.

There is a smattering of Sunderland talent on show with young striker Joel Asoro named in the squad for defending champions Sweden and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford selected for England.

Burnley v Sunderland - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Replay
Joel Asoro playing for Sunderland against Burnley in the FA Cup in January
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Both Sunderland players will face each other in the opening stages with England and Sweden making up Group A alongside Slovakia and host nation Poland.

The top two countries in each group then progress to the semi-final round. The tournament starts on Friday 16th June with England and Sweden kicking off proceedings at 5pm.

Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League
Jordan Pickford in action during Sunderland's final game of the Premier League campaign
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Games will be shown live on Sky Sports and the competition promises to be something of a showcase for top European young talent.

Lots of eyes will be on Jordan Pickford for one thing with the Black Cat's goalie likely to be the subject of bids for his services this summer. And Joel Asoro has capped a notable campaign with nominations for the prestigious 'European Golden Boy' title and the Premier League 2 Player of the Year award.


Senior squads in action in the coming weeks but Kone takes no part tonight

Elsewhere, Sebastian Larsson - who may or may not be at Sunderland next season - has been named in the senior Sweden squad which will face France in a World Cup qualifier on June 9th followed by a friendly with Norway a few days later.

Portugal v Sweden - International Friendly
Larsson on internation duty with Sweden in March
Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images

Notable news on Lamine Kone. The Sunderland centre-back was called up to be part of the Ivory Coast squad which plays Benin in a friendly tonight followed by a trip to the Netherlands on Sunday and then a World Cup Qualifier against Guinea on the 8th June.

But according to reports in Africa, the Sunderland centre-half has not trained with the rest of Les Elephants as he is still suffering with the injury that kept him out of the Black Cats' squad for the final Premier League game of the season. That game against Chelsea turned out to be David Moyes last match in charge of course.

France v Ivory Coast - International Friendly
Kone on international duty
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Kone was accused of being one of the players who refused to play in that fixture with suggestions that many of those who didn't travel to Stamford Bridge had feigned injury.

Indeed TalkSport pundit and former Sunderland defender Micky Gray actually named the 28-year-old defender as one of a pair he had learnt had missed the game for no valid reason. Kone's continued injury suggests otherwise.

Likewise Didier Ndong has a busy start to his summer with a friendly match against Gambia on Friday and a qualifier for the 2019 African Cup of Nations versus Mali on 8th June.

Wahbi Khazri is still omitted from the Tunisian side. That's despite new manager Nabil Maloul indicating the Sunderland midfielder would return from his exclusion imposed after the Cup of Nations in January. The North African country begin their qualifying campaign for the 2019 version of the African tournament against neighbours Egypt in a fortnight's time.

Togo v Tunisia - 2013 Africa Cup of Nations: Group D
Wahbi Khazri playing for Tunisia

Finally, left-back Bryan Oviedo - who yesterday indicated he may not remain at Sunderland next season - will be with the Costa Rican squad when they play Panama in early June in another World Cup Qualifier.


Tommy Robson on his future & League of Ireland loan spell

Speaking of left-backs, Sunderland academy product Tommy Robson seems to have been making the most of his loan spell with League of Ireland outfit Limerick FC.

Tommy Robson playing for Limerick
Sporting Limerick

Robson joined Limerick in February in a deal to the end of the English season. The 21-year-old defender has made 14 appearances for the side who are presently sixth in the Irish league table.

Now at the end of his stint in Eire, Robson has been speaking about his time in Ireland and how the spell has aided his development:

They've looked after me well since I've been here and I've really enjoyed playing here. It's a good club and a good city.

Robson also points out how fending for himself in a smaller footballing community has compared with growing up cocooned in the Academy of Light:

In Sunderland you get everything given to you. It's a given. Over here you've got to do everything yourself. It's quite refreshing for me. I was at Darlington before I was at Sunderland and that was very similar to here.

At Sunderland your training kits are done for you - they're washed and everything every day. Here you have to bring it back and go along the road and get it done at the cleaners.

Tottenham Hotspur U21 v Sunderland U21: Barclays U21 Premier League
Tommy Robson playing for Sunderland's Under-21s against Tottenham last year
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

The Stanley-raised full-back also says a loan spell in a different environment outside of the Sunderland youth set-up has done him a world of good:

This is probably what I needed - to get out of my comfort zone a little bit. When I was at Sunderland I was too much in my comfort zone so it's been good for me.

On what he's gained from a spell in the League of Ireland, Robson identifies the physical challenge of being up against older players and the heightened competitive nature of playing in a senior competition.

And on whether his time in Eire will help build his future at Sunderland:

That's my biggest hope. I've been here and come here and done what I wanted to do and if that's still not good enough when I go back then I've got to look at other options. Only time will tell.

The young defender will return to England in the next couple of days with some good reviews for his performances on the pitch and his application and attitude off it.

And with Bryan Oviedo hinting at an exit plan from the Stadium of Light, Javier Manquillo returned to Spain and Patrick van Aanholt now long gone, Sunderland will be in the market for left full-backs this summer. Could Tommy Robson make the step up into the Championship squad?