YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) — Egypt's team delayed its departure for the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament Friday after backup goalkeeper Mohamed Abou Gabal and goalkeeping coach Essam el-Hadary tested positive for the coronavirus.
Egypt is now set to fly from Cairo to Cameroon on Saturday without Abou Gabal and el-Hadary. Egypt is just the latest of many African Cup teams to have their preparations affected by the pandemic.
Abou Gabal and el-Hadary returned positive tests on Thursday, the Egyptian Football Association said, and will miss the tournament.
"Unprecedented times. The more the situation becomes difficult, the more we stay together & strong," Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz wrote on Twitter.
Egypt, captained by Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, starts its African Cup campaign against Nigeria in one of the games of the group stage on Tuesday.
Just about every one of the 24 teams competing at the monthlong African Cup, which opens Sunday, has been affected by the virus in one way or another in the buildup. Burkina Faso might not be able to field a full-strength team in the opening game against host Cameroon because of infections in its squad.
Gabon also has problems with the virus and has now rejected a hotel assigned to it in Yaounde by organizers of the African Cup and faces possible sanctions for moving to another base without permission.
Gabon captain and Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, midfielder Mario Lemina and assistant coach Anicet Yala tested positive for the coronavirus at an airport on the team's arrival in Cameroon on Thursday.
The three tested positive after taking rapid antigen tests and underwent more testing to confirm if they are infected. The results of those follow-up tests haven't been announced but if they are also positive, Aubameyang and Lemina will definitely miss the team's opening game on Monday against Comoros.
Gabon moved the squad and most of its delegation from its assigned hotel to another one in Yaounde, claiming the hotel it was given was substandard.
The Confederation of African Football asked Gabon for an explanation by Friday morning, and said the matter will be submitted to a CAF disciplinary committee because the hotel Gabon moved to is not on the approved list.
Cameroon is hosting the African Cup three years later than planned. It was stripped of the 2019 tournament because it was so far behind with its preparations and the event was then postponed for a year from 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. It'll now go ahead amid a global surge in virus cases driven by the omicron variant.
The African Cup takes place every two years, not every four like other major soccer tournaments.
Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.
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Isifu Wirfengla And Gerald Imray, The Associated Press