Redknapp set for battle to hold back Nigeria duo

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The Independent Football

Portsmouth are ready to fight Nigeria's attempt to take their strikers, Kanu and John Utaka, two weeks early for next month's African Nations Cup.

Pompey will be without Kanu and Utaka, Ghana's Sulley Muntari and Senegal's Papa Bouba Diop during the tournament which runs from 20 January and the quartet could miss up to five domestic games depending on the progress of their countries. But the Nigeria coach, Berti Vogts, the former Scotland manager, wants his squad to report early to attend a 14-day training camp ahead of the event. That would take Kanu and Utaka out of two extra Pompey matches and there are fears other nations could follow suit.

But the Fratton Park chief executive, Peter Storrie, will try to hold back Portsmouth's African contingent for as long as possible. He said: "We will be protesting strongly and will be discussing it with the nations concerned."

Storrie, who is confident he can win an appeal, added: "It is just ridiculous. We all know who the countries in the quarter-finals will be. What do they need a 14-day warm-up for? We do not have to release them [early]. There are Fifa rules which legislate for this. It is totally crazy."

With the reserve defender, Djimi Traor, also likely to be called up by Mali, the manager, Harry Redknapp, added: "That will leave me with a squad of just 14 players capable of playing at Premier League level and if we get an injury we are in trouble. I knew when I signed them they could be missing for a while in January and February but I still think it was worth the gamble to put us where we are with 27 points at this stage of the season.

"But I am going to have to get in three or four more players to fill up the squad maybe loans or somebody from the lower divisions if I can find them."

Last month, Redknapp refused to release Kanu and Utaka for Nigeria's friendly against Australia at Fulham on a day when there were no Premier League matches after they picked up injuries against Manchester City. Two years ago, Pompey persuaded Zimbabwe to let the newly signed Benjani Mwaruwari delay his African Nations Cup arrival to help in their fight against relegation.

The 4.4m striker eventually reported five days before the tournament and even returned by private jet to play against Liverpool, less than 24 hours after a Zimbabwe game. Pompey's African Cup contingent are expected to miss League games at Fratton Park against Derby and Chelsea and trips to Manchester United and Bolton.

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