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Africa Cup of Nations

Afcon 2021: Watford happy to keep Nigeria striker Dennis and ‘for me it is finished’ – Ranieri

07:11 GMT 02/01/2022
Watford coach Claudio Ranieri and Emmanuel Dennis of Nigeria.
The club's manager maintains they have closed the case with the Super Eagles over the availability of the striker

Watford manager Claudio Ranieri has maintained they are happy to keep striker Emmanuel Dennis despite Nigeria interim coach Augustine Eguavoen claiming the Premier League club had threatened the player from taking part in the Africa Cup of Nations.

The 24-year-old was among the four players who were replaced in the Super Eagles squad for the 33rd edition of the continental finals set to kick off in Cameroon on January 9.

Dennis, who earned his spot in the team after an impressive display for the Hornets in the top-flight, was replaced in the Super Eagles' 28-man squad on Friday by Olympiacos’ Henry Onyekuru.

This was after Watford reportedly refused to release the player, who has so far scored eight goals in the Premier League from 17 appearances and popped up with two assists.

The move irked Eguavoen, who claimed Watford had threatened Dennis to miss Afcon.

Responding to the claims after the team suffered their 13th defeat of the season against Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road on Saturday, Ranieri maintained the dispute with Nigeria over the player is finished.

“I think Nigeria have to speak to the [Watford] board and not the manager. I am the manager, the player stays here, I’m happy and for me, it is finished,” the 70-year-old Italian manager told reporters as quoted by Daily Mail.

“Maybe disappointed, all the players want to go to play for their national team, but also want to stay here - a little bit disappointed, a little bit happy to stay here.”

On supporting his claims that Dennis was threatened by Watford, Eguavoen said in a previous interview: “Dennis told me that his club had done everything humanly possible for him not be at Afcon.

“I can’t force it, I reported the matter to the authority and they also tried, that was why we had to wait until the last second before we pushed the button.

“Dennis said he wanted to come but the club is threatening him. What do we do if a player does not want to come? We have to play with what we have. Based on that, I like the enthusiasm because I only informed Onyekuru once and he was happy about it.”

Despite managing to keep Dennis at the club, Watford will still lose Nigerian defender William Troost-Ekong, Morocco pair Adam Masina and Imran Louza, as well as Senegal winger Ismaila Sarr during Afcon, and according to Ranieri they are still talking to the board to do “something good for us.”

“Now I lose some players [to the African Cup of Nations], so we have to do something. We will see. We are speaking every day with the board and I’m sure they will try to do something good for us,” Ranieri said as quoted by the club’s official website.

On why he substituted Dennis at half-time break of the 1-0 defeat against Spurs, Ranieri said: “He had a little injury problem before, and he felt something as well, so we took a precaution.

“Before the match, he wasn’t 100 per cent and I saw he was a little nervous during the match, so I changed and put on Joao Pedro who played a very good match.”