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FIFA rule change boosts African nations
Mark Gleeson | January 15, 2004 12:23 IST
FIFA's decision to loosen the rules allowing players to switch international allegiance has helped some African nations to recruit top-class talent and is likely to give a major boost to the continent's prospects.
Former Arsenal and Paris St Germain striker Kaba Diawara is the latest ex-French junior international to seek permission to change nationality and play at the African Nations Cup finals.
The 27-year-old forward, who played for France at under-21 level, has been named by Guinea in a provisional squad for the tournament in Tunisia from January 24 to February 14.
Since January 1, players with dual citizenship or nationality who have not played international football above under-21 level have been eligible to apply to world soccer's governing body to change the country they represent.
In future, players will have to be under-21 to make the switch but FIFA has waived the age restriction until October.
Diawara, who has also played for Bordeaux, Olympique Marseille, Blackburn Rovers and West Ham United and now plies his trade in Qatar, is expected to be allowed by FIFA to represent his parents' country.
Diawara's decision brings to seven the number of former French junior internationals who have opted to play for African countries since the change in FIFA's statutes adopted at its Congress in Qatar last October.
FIFA has already given permission for Frederic Kanoute and Mohamed Lamine Sissoko to play for Mali, Lamine Sakho to represent Senegal and Samir Beloufa, Abdelnasser Ouadah and Antar Yahia to appear for Algeria at the Nations Cup.
Since the 1960s hundreds of sons of Africa have been lost to the continent's national teams as the finest players moved to Europe seeking fame and fortune.
But many players who represented one nation as youngsters never progressed to the senior team and their early choice meant they could not pursue an international career elsewhere.
FIFA's decision means that has all changed and African countries are lining up to reap the benefits.
Algerian Football Federation president Mohamed Raouraoua wants to persuade more players of Algerian descent who have represented France at junior international level to make the switch before the World Cup qualifiers start in June.
Algeria are seeking to persuade Borussia Dortmund's Ahmed Madouni, Camel Meriem of Marseille and Bologna's Mourad Meghni to make themselves available later in the year.
But 19-year-old Meghni told the French newspaper L'Equipe he still had time to decide and that his ambition remained to play for France at full international level.
Togo are expected to try to persuade Kodjo Afanou, formerly of Bordeaux and now playing for Asian champions Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates, to help their World Cup campaign, while Cameroon are likely to approach Portsmouth's Vincent Pericard.
Liverpool defender Djimi Traore has previously been approached by Mali to play for their national team.
Junior players from other European countries could also be persuaded to represent their countries of origin including Dutch player Youssef Hersi, who is of Ethiopian origin, and Scottish junior international Burton O'Brein, born in South Africa.
Nigeria could be interested in Newcastle United's Shola Ameobi, who has played at under-21 level for England, or Joseph Dayo Oshadogan, capped at junior level by the Italians.
There are also junior internationals from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Portugal and Sweden with dual nationality and the opportunity to change their international allegiance although not all of them have been immediately interested.
Peggy Lukunku, born in Kinshasa but a French junior international, turned down an invitation to play for the Democratic Republic of Congo in Tunisia as did Monaco's Eduoard Cisse, formerly at West Ham, who was approached by Senegal.