Nigeria will be without striker Odion Ighalo at the Africa Cup of Nations after his Saudi Arabian club Al Shabab refused to release him for the tournament in Cameroon, which starts on Sunday.

The 32-year-old, top scorer at the last Nations Cup in 2019, was initially given a deadline of Tuesday to confirm his availability by interim Super Eagles coach Augustine Eguavoen.

However, Ighalo was not part of the squad that landed in Garoua late on Wednesday and a statement from the Nigeria Football Federation said he “is no longer expected as a result of issues with his Saudi Arabian club”.

Al Shabab objected to their top scorer’s involvement and reiterated that NFF missed the official deadline to call up the player.

The Riyad club official Majid Al-Marzouki told Al Arabiya’s In the Goal TV program that Ighalo’s letter of invitation did not reach the club within the period specified by world governing body Fifa for receiving players’ call-up letters.

“The Fifa Player Status Regulations stipulates that the federation must notify the player and his club in writing of his summons 15 days before the start of the tournament, and it is advised to send a copy to the local federation of the club as well, which did not happen,” Al-Marzouki said.

“Accordingly the coach [Pericles Chamusca] told us that the player will stay with us and will not join the Nigerian team.

“There are no negotiations between us and the Nigerian federation, and the player is committed to the decision. The situation is settled.”

Nigeria team officials have informed BBC Sport Africa that they might not be able to call up a replacement.

Article 72.2 of the Confederation of African Football’s tournament regulations state: “A player on the final list cannot be replaced unless seriously injured at the latest 24 hours at least before the beginning of the first match of his team.”

Recalled from international retirement in November by former coach Gernot Rohr, Ighalo’s 16 international goals rank the former Watford and Manchester United man among the country’s top six scorers.

Nigeria was hoping Ighalo, currently, the leading goalscorer in the Saudi Pro League season with 11 goals for Al Shabab, could reproduce his club form at the continental showpiece football event.

Attacking problems mount for Super Eagles

This is the latest club versus country row involving Nigeria, following last month’s decision by Premier League club Watford to prevent their top scorer Emmanuel Dennis from playing in Cameroon, claiming the NFF missed the deadline to request his release.

Nigeria suggested Watford were “baring fangs” over the issues and the player has since been replaced.

The Super Eagles are also without Victor Osimhen, their top scorer in qualifying after the Napoli man was ruled out following a positive Covid-19 test and is still recovering from facial fractures.

Genk’s Paul Onuachu, who has netted 12 league goals this season, will also miss the tournament through injury.

Europe-based Jamilu Collins and Tyronne Ebuehi, who did not travel from Abuja to Garoua, are expected to link up with the rest of the squad in Cameroon ahead of the opening game against Egypt on Tuesday, 11 January.

The three-time African champions, who have appointed Portuguese Jose Peseiro as their permanent coach, are in Group D along with the Pharaohs, Guinea-Bissau, and Sudan.