AFCON: Leicester City boss delivers latest injury update on Nigeria’s Iheanacho

Leicester City manager Enzo Maresca has given the latest update on the injury situation of Nigerian midfielder Kelechi Iheanacho, with the forward still yet to join the Super Eagles camp ahead of the 2023 AFCON.

The Foxes boss said although the player is getting better, it is still not certain when he will return to full fitness.

Iheanacho has not played for Leicester since the turn of the year, with his last game coming against Ipswich Town on Boxing Day.

Kelechi Iheanacho
Credit: Icon Sport

The 27-year-old has since missed his club’s matches against Cardiff City and Huddersfield in the English Championship.

Iheanacho still injured

Iheanacho is also set to miss the Foxes’ Emirates FA Cup third-round game against Millwall on Saturday, with his injury situation unchanged.

Addressing the media at a pre-match press conference, Leicester manager Maresca said he does not know when Iheanacho will return, as he remains injured.

“I don’t know. The only thing I can say it that Kel is still injured. It’s getting better but it’s still not 100 per cent otherwise he would be in the squad for tomorrow and he’s not in the squad,” Maresca is quoted as saying by the BBC.

Maresca’s comment casts doubt over the possibility of Iheanacho representing Nigeria at the AFCON with just eight days to the start of the tournament in the Ivory Coast.

NFF president believes Iheanacho will be fit for AFCON

Super Eagles coach Jose Peseiro, though, remains optimistic about the forward recovering in time to play a part in his side’s AFCON campaign.

The Portuguese’s optimism is the reason why he chose to name Iheanacho in his final 27-man squad for the tournament despite the player’s injury issues.

Peseiro is not the only one confident of the Leicester star’s recovery, though, with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Ibrahim Gusau also telling reporters that Iheanacho is expected in camp before the AFCON starts.

“I have spoken to Iheanacho, he’s recovering fast and has even started running. He will most likely join us in Lagos, where the team will be hosted to a dinner on January 9,” Gusau said.

‘We have the best player in Africa’

The Super Eagles are currently camping in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ahead of the AFCON, where they’ve been drawn against hosts Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea in Group A.

Peseiro and his players will, however, first test themselves in an international friendly against Guinea on Sunday, and Gusau believes they have what it takes to win the AFCON.

According to him, the reigning CAF Footballer of the Year, Victor Osimhen, and the other players in camp are hungry for success.

“I have confidence in the team. We have upcoming and talented players, who are doing wonderfully well in their European clubs and ready to make a name for themselves,” the NFF president said.

“We have the best player in Africa in Victor Osimhen, but he has yet to win the Africa Cup.”

Meanwhile, 22 players are currently in camp as the Super Eagles continue their preparations ahead of the AFCON.  Captain Ahmed Musa, Kenneth Omeruo, Moses Simon, Alex Iwobi, Victor Boniface and Saidu Sanusi arrived earlier in the week, while goalkeeper Stanley Nwabili, Francis Uzoho, Sadiq Umar and Alhassan Yusuf also joined on Thursday.

AC Milan star Samuel Chukwueze also flew straight to the Super Eagles camp in Abu Dhabi after playing for the Italian side in their cup game against Cagliari on Tuesday.

As it stands, the only players who are yet to report to camp are Osimhen, William Troost-Ekong and Iheanacho, whose injury situation continues to delay his arrival.

Nigeria will open their AFCON campaign on January 14 against Equatorial Guinea at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan. They will then face Ivory Coast four days later before rounding up Group A with a fixture against Guinea-Bissau.

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Emmanuel Ayamga

Emmanuel Ayamga is an African sports writer, with bylines on DW, Al Jazeera, World Soccer Magazine and These Football Times.