Manchester United centre-back Eric Bailly and Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha are among the England-based contingent named in a provisional Ivory Coast squad ahead of next month's 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. Head coach Michel Dussuyer unveiled an initial 24-man travelling party on Wednesday (28 December) expected to assemble in Abu Dhabi on 2 January for a 10-day pre-tournament training camp.
United boss Jose Mourinho always knew that he would lose his influential £30m ($36.8m) summer signing for AFCON, but will be eager to keep a close eye on his progress. Bailly missed six weeks of action due to knee ligament damage sustained during a 4-0 thrashing by Chelsea earlier this season and gave further cause for concern by injuring his other knee on only his third appearance back against Crystal Palace.
He sat out the subsequent defeat of West Brom and was later omitted from the Boxing Day clash with Sunderland despite returning to training as Mourinho, no doubt wary of his imminent departure, opted to keep faith in Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo. The manager had previously revealed that Bailly's latest problem was not as serious as first feared and did not require surgery.
Zaha will be bidding to win his first Ivory Coast cap in Gabon, with the Ivorian Football Federation (FIF) having last month submitted a request to Fifa regarding a switch of his international allegiance. The 24-year-old, born in Abidjan, represented England at U19 and U21 level before making two senior appearances against Sweden and Scotland. He remained eligible for the switch due to the fact that both of the aforementioned fixtures were friendlies rather than competitive matches.
It was reported earlier this week that Three Lions' boss Gareth Southgate had met with Zaha, who has once again been linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur ahead of the January transfer window, to attempt to dissuade him against such a U-turn, although those appeals appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Joining Bailly and Zaha in Dussuyer's squad are Sunderland defender Lamine Kone, Stoke City loanee Wilfried Bony, Bournemouth's Max Gradel and Aston Villa forward Jonathan Kodjia. Chelsea midfielder Victorien Angban, currently on a season-long loan with La Liga outfit Granada, also makes the cut alongside ex-Blues stalwart Salomon Kalou. Former captain Yaya Toure announced his retirement from international football in September after 12 years, 113 games and three World Cups. Current skipper Gervinho misses out after undergoing surgery on ruptured cruciate ligaments last month.
Ivory Coast are the defending Africa Cup of Nations champions after finally ending their 23-year wait for a second title courtesy of a 9-8 penalty shootout victory over Ghana in 2015. With their training camp beginning next week and the latest edition of the competition not scheduled to finish until 5 February, another run to the final could see Bailly, Zaha and co absent from domestic duties for up to six weeks.
The Elephants kick-off their Group A campaign against Togo in Oyem on 16 January before fixtures with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Morocco.