Nigeria have closed the Africa Cup of Nations door on Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi after he failed to arrive this weekend at the team training camp in Portugal.
Ameobi preferred to skipper a depleted Magpies team that slumped 2-0 at second-tier Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday to make a shock FA Cup third-round exit.
The 31-year-old striker made his senior international debut against Venezuela two months ago and was set to be included in a 23-man Super Eagles squad for the Cup of Nations between January 19 and February 10.
But once Ameobi was chosen in a provisional Nigerian squad, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said the player would not be going to South Africa for the tournament without giving a reason.
Although it emerged that a clause in the contract of Ameobi allowed the English Premier League club to retain his services during the tournament, Eagles coach Stephen Keshi did not drop him from the squad until this weekend.
"The chapter concerning Ameobi is now closed and we are looking ahead to the announcement of the final 23-man squad this week," Nigeria team spokesman Ben Alaiya told reporters at the camp in Faro.
Alaiya added that the squad to face defending champions Zambia, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia in Rustenburg-based Group C could be named Tuesday, a day before Nigeria play a warm-up match against the Cape Verde Islands in Portugal.
The Eagles will be hoping to build on an impressive first warm-up last Wednesday when an experimental team that started with seven local players drew 1-1 in Spain against a Catalonia side containing several Barcelona stars.
Meanwhile, Zambia have come under media fire after the defending champions suffered a third friendly defeat in a row when losing 2-0 to Group A challengers Angola at Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto.
The tinkering of French coach Herve Renard – who substituted virtually the entire starting line-up at halftime – did not go down well with several Lusaka-based newspapers.
"Zambia received a wake-up call when losing to Angola," said a concerned Sunday Mail while the Sunday Times noted that "Zambian preparations got a reality check in a shocking loss".
But team spokesman Erick Mwanza cautioned against over-reaction after Chipolopolo (The Coppers Bullets) conceded a goal in each half against the Angolans after losing in Saudi Arabia and Tanzania last month.
"We know our fans want the team to win all the time and we understand their passion, but these friendlies are not win-at-all-costs games. They offer an opportunity to test all the players in contention for squad places," he said.