Malawi’s team has been hit hard by COVID-19 infections as they prepare to play their first Africa Cup of Nations finals match in more than a decade on Monday.
Other teams set to take the field on Monday – Gabon, Guinea and the highly fancied Morocco and Senegal – have also been weakened by novel coronavirus infections, which are threatening to play havoc with the tournament in Cameroon.
Malawi, who last played at the finals in 2010, will be without coach Mario Marinica and six players after returning positive results in testing on Saturday, the country’s football association said in a statement.
Their Group B opponents Guinea are in a similar predicament with four more cases recorded at the weekend.
Defenders Fode Camara and Ibrahima Sory Conte, defensive midfielder Mory Konate and forward Morgan Guilavogui will not be able to play the match in Bafoussam, the Guinea football association said.
Guinea had already left three players behind in Rwanda, where they were preparing for the tournament, because they had tested positive and were isolating.
Senegal have had three positive cases since their arrival in Cameroon, including captain Kalidou Koulibaly and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, having already been forced to leave six squad members behind in Dakar to recover.
That has left coach Aliou Cisse with only 17 players to choose from against Zimbabwe in Bafoussam on Monday.
Gabon start against the Comoros Islands in Yaounde on Monday without captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and three other players, but coach Patrice Neveu told a news conference on Sunday he was confident they could overcome the setback.
Morocco’s Aymen Barkok and Auyoub El Kaabi will miss their match against Ghana in Yaounde.
Sunday’s opening match saw hosts Cameroon without four players, who were isolating after contracting the virus, while opponents Burkina Faso had six missing.
Burkina Faso protested the laboratory results on Saturday, calling it “a fraud” and claiming their top players had been targeted.
But the Confederation of African Football’s appeal committee rejected the protest, pointing out COVID-19 testing of players at the tournament was being conducted by an independent laboratory brought in from Europe.
CAF has laid down strict rules regarding COVID-19.
If any player tests positive they will not be authorised to go to the stadium or participate in the match, while teams must play as long as they have a minimum of 11 players available. If they have no goalkeeper available, another player must play in that position.
Teams that do not have a minimum of 11 players available will be considered to have lost the match 2-0, according to CAF.