Gavi, Vinicius and Haaland have all returned with injuries, some of them serious, and the African tournament awaits in two months' time

FIFA virus turns into a pandemic and Europe fears Africa Cup of Nations

PHOTO/AFP/CÉSAR MANSO - El centrocampista español Gavi reacciona tras lesionarse la rodilla durante el partido de fútbol de clasificación para el grupo A de la UEFA Euro 2024 entre España y Georgia en el estadio José Zorrilla de Valladolid el 19 de noviembre de 2023
photo_camera PHOTO/AFP/CÉSAR MANSO - Spain midfielder Gavi reacts after injuring his knee during the UEFA Euro 2024 group A qualifying soccer match between Spain and Georgia at the Jose Zorrilla stadium in Valladolid on November 19, 2023

Back in 2006, Spain and Argentina inaugurated the Nueva Condomina stadium in Murcia. Coaches Luis Aragonés and Alfio Basile did not want to play that match in the middle of October because of the poor state of the pitch. In one of the previous training sessions, Puyol was injured and on the day of the match, Maxi Rodríguez, the Atlético de Madrid striker, broke his cruciate muscle and missed the whole season.   

That may have been the result of bad luck, there is no doubt, but 17 years later football still wonders what need there is to play certain games. Pep Guardiola had no problem raising his complaint after winning the European Super Cup against Sevilla in August. The Spanish coach spoke of the crusades that Courtois and Militao had broken and left that phrase "if Courtois isn't here, someone else will be" in reference to the fact that the footballing establishment doesn't care about the players, only about the spectacle and the business.  

Playing a Clasico in the United States in July with barely 15 days of training and at the highest level does not benefit the clubs, who can barely prepare the players physically. Barça will finish the year in Dallas playing a five million euro friendly that Gavi will no longer be able to play because he broke his knee in an inconsequential game against Georgia in November.   

REUTERS/MOLLY DARLINGTON - El entrenador del Manchester City, Pep Guardiola, celebra su primer gol marcado por Bernardo Silva
REUTERS/MOLLY DARLINGTON - Manchester City head coach Pep Guardiola

Football in Spain will not stop again until March. These last three national team games have only served to disconnect football fans from the game and to accumulate minutes for players who, if they do not get injured, will finish the season with almost 70 games under their belts. "There comes a point in the season when you don't train, you just play and recover," says one top coach. For 2025, UEFA is preparing one more break while all players are calling for these matches to be carried over to the end of the season.

Haaland returns for City with an ankle problem just before a key game against Liverpool. Ter Stegen returned from his Germany training camp with a back problem that will keep him out, at least against Rayo Vallecano. But the FIFA virus became pandemic when news came through that Vinicius has a ruptured biceps femoris and will be out for more than two months before returning for the last 16 of the Champions League. To this must be added Camavinga's knee injury, which could have ended in tragedy after Dembelé's tackle in training with France. 

Other important players for their teams such as Oyarzábal, Ocampos or the case of Muriqui who had to play a match against Israel out of date have fallen in combat. Mallorca loaned the player in exchange for the postponement of their league match and the result was that their striker will be injured for several weeks.   

When the infirmary recovers, the Africa Cup of Nations, which runs from 13 January to 11 February 2024 in Côte d'Ivoire, will begin and teams with Moroccan players will be the most affected. The quality of names such as Achraf, Bono, En Nesyri or Brahim, the Real Madrid midfielder who has chosen the Atlas Lions to play his international matches.

AFP/ANDY BUCHANAN - El portero belga del Real Madrid Thibaut Courtois (C) y sus compañeros de equipo celebran al final del partido de fútbol del Grupo F de la UEFA Champions League entre el Celtic y el Real Madrid, en el estadio Celtic Park, en Glasgow, el 6 de septiembre de 2022
AFP/ANDY BUCHANAN - Real Madrid's Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (C) and teammates celebrate at the end of the UEFA Champions League Group F soccer match between Celtic and Real Madrid at Celtic Park stadium in Glasgow on September 6, 2022

Rumours suggested that after Courtois' injury Real Madrid wanted to sign Bono, but his month-long trip to the Africa Cup of Nations put paid to the plans of the then Sevilla goalkeeper, who ended up in Saudi Arabia. 

The African tournament has been a historic headache for European clubs, especially the French, who see their players accumulate between three and seven extra matches with their corresponding extensions if necessary and then have to return to face the most important part of the season with titles at stake.  

Outside the African team, Spain could lose up to twelve players such as Mandi (Villarreal), Bebé and Pathé Ciss (Rayo Vallecano) and Iñaki Williams (Ghana), as well as players such as Salah (Egypt), Keita (Guinea), Mané (Senegal) and Mahrez (Algeria).

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