The Everton manager, David Moyes, believes he will be able to call on the club's top scorer Ayegbeni Yakubu and defender Joseph Yobo until the start of the African Nations Cup. The duo were yesterday named in a 31-man squad by the Nigeria manager, Berti Vogts, and are due to report to a training camp in Malaga, which will run from 4 January.
But Moyes understands Yakubu and Yobo will be given leave to carry out domestic duties before the three-week competition begins on 20 January. He said yesterday: "I do not have the information yet, but I believe Nigeria are going to let players come back right up to the start of the tournament."
That would be a boost for Everton, given that Yakubu is on a superb run of scoring form after his 11m move from Middlesbrough and Yobo has been impressive at the back.
Yakubu is looking to improve on his nine-goal tally, going into tonight's Carling Cup quarter-final against West Ham. He feels he can score 20 this season, and Moyes said: "It is great that he shows that confidence. We just need to keep providing him with the ammunition to get those goals."
However, the 19-year-old striker Victor Anichebe, who says his native Nigeria is the nation he wants to represent, has been overlooked by Vogts. Moyes said: "I think Nigeria have a fantastic array of centre-forwards. That is probably the reason why Victor is not in the squad. We are disappointed he has not been included but we are glad he will be here with us."
Anichebe could get a run-out at Upton Park, with Everton aiming to stretch their unbeaten run to 11 games. Moyes is spoilt for choice up front, with Andrew Johnson, James McFadden and James Vaughan pushing for places. With a nine-match schedule this month, Moyes is prepared to mix things up. He said: "We had Andrew Johnson and James McFadden starting last week. We have also used Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan from the bench. They will all get chances."
Everton face West Ham at the same venue again on Saturday, and Moyes added: "I am only thinking about the first game that is the most important one. Upton Park will be a difficult place to go. But we have had some good results there, and the players are approaching the match with confidence."
The Chelsea striker Didier Drogba has been selected in the Ivory Coast's preliminary squad for the African Nations Cup. The 29-year-old underwent surgery on a knee injury on Saturday, and Chelsea's manager Avram Grant this week claimed he would be out of action for around three weeks. But Drogba's injury problems have not stopped him from being included in Uli Stielike's 26-man squad, along with team-mate Salomon Kalou.
The Arsenal defenders Kolo Tour and Emmanuel Ebou, Bolton Wanderers' centre-half Abdoulaye Meit, Emerse Fa of Reading and the Spurs midfielder Didier Zokora are the other Premier League players selected.
Portsmouth's Djimi Traor has been left out of Mali's preliminary squad of 28.
The event in Ghana begins on 20 January and runs until 10 February.