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African encounter will shape Newcastle's plans
NEWCASTLE boss Alan Pardew will reshape his plans for the January transfer window in the wake of today's Africa Cup of Nations decider between Senegal and Ivory Coast.
The two sides meet in Dakar for the second leg of their final qualifier with Ivory Coast leading 4-2 from the opening encounter.
The aggregate winners will secure a place in next spring's tournament in South Africa, and the outcome will have major repercussions for the Magpies.
The worst-case scenario is a Senegal victory, as that would mean Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba being unavailable for up to six weeks in January and February.
With Shola Ameobi the only other recognised centre-forward on Newcastle's books – Spanish misfit Xisco continues to train with the senior squad but is not even being considered for the reserves – it is hard to see how Newcastle could cope in the absence of Cisse and Ba.
Pardew failed to secure a deal for Dutch striker Luuk de Jong in the summer transfer window, and the Magpies manager would almost certainly have to re-enter the market if Senegal were to overturn their deficit later today.
An Ivory Coast success would deprive Newcastle of the services of Cheik Tiote, but the recent arrival of Vurnon Anita has bolstered an already strong central unit, and the need for a midfield recruit in January would be nowhere near as acute.
Pardew insists he has remained strictly neutral in the build-up to today's game, but a Senegal victory would create unwanted complications for the second season in a row.
Both Ba and Cisse played in the Africa Cup of Nations for Senegal this January – the latter had only just signed for Newcastle and was still to play a competitive game – and the Magpies' coaching staff are known to have been extremely frustrated at the poor shape in which the former returned for club duty.
“Senegal against Ivory Coast is a massive game for this football club,” said Pardew. “If Senegal win, we will lose both of them (Ba and Cisse), so in the next window we would have to do something about it.
“I will lose either one world-class player or two world-class players, so I'd probably rather Cheik bangs a couple in, then I'll lose just the one player.
“If it's the other way round, I have no problem with that because I'll have Cheik on board. It's an interesting fixture and I think it'll be hard (for Ivory Coast) to hold on to their lead, but we'll see.”
Cisse has endured a difficult few months with the Senegalese authorities after effectively asking not to be considered as an over-aged player for the Olympic Games.
All will be forgiven if he can inspire a turnaround today though, with Senegal's desperate showing at this year's Africa Cup of Nations still considered something of a national embarrassment.
“Playing Ivory Coast will require talent and mental strength above the average, which we the players have,” said Cisse. “I believe the outcome of the match will depend on small details like mistakes on the part of one side or the other.
“That is why I am reiterating my call to all Senegalese to come forth and show support because this game is not just for the players, but for the whole nation.”