Hibs could lose striker Dominique Malonga for five matches early next year after Congo clinched their place in the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
The Easter Road player won his first cap for his adopted nation as they defeated Sudan 1-0 in their final qualifying match, the 25-year-old playing the last eight minutes of the match in Khartoum. Victory ensured Congo finished second in their group to South Africa, whose 2-2 draw with defending champions Nigeria knocked the Super Eagles out.
Hibs were today expecting Malonga to report back to their East Mains training centre when head coach Alan Stubbs and his staff will assess his readiness to play in Saturday’s Championship clash away to Dumbarton, with the club’s joint top scorer having endured 10,000 miles of air travel.
But now Stubbs faces losing Malonga for an extended period provided the Paris-born player is selected by Congo – where his parents hail from – for the finals, which will now take place in Equatorial Guinea from January 17 to February 8 after the original hosts Morocco were thrown out of the tournament for seeking a postponement of the finals given the outbreak of Ebola elsewhere in Africa.
If that is the case, Malonga would most likely depart Edinburgh following the derby against Hearts at Tynecastle on January 3 and, depending on Congo’s progress in the competition, he would miss Championship matches against Falkirk, Cowdenbeath, Queen of the South and Raith Rovers along with the fifth round Scottish Cup tie, which is due to be played on February 7, provided Hibs defeat Alloa Athletic next weekend.
It may be that Malonga would not be available again until Hibs travel to face Rangers at Ibrox on February 14 but, of course, he could return to Scotland at any time with Congo, who have qualified for the finals for the first time in 14 years, set to take a place in Pot 4 when the draw is made in Malabo on December 3.
While he’s admitted losing Malonga has been a loss, Stubbs will take philisophical approach should his player depart again.
The Hibs boss, who has fellow striker Farid El Alagui recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon and highly unlikely to return by January, has said of the former Cesena star’s absence: “We have no control over the situation. Ideally, we would like him to be here to play but it is out of our hands.”