Football: Zaha rejects England to play for Ivory Coast

LONDON • Wilfried Zaha has rebuffed Gareth Southgate and will become the first England player for more than 50 years to switch international allegiances when he joins up with Ivory Coast for their defence of the Africa Cup of Nations next month.

His decision is a significant blow to his new club manager, Sam Allardyce, who has been charged with steering Crystal Palace to safety from 17th in the Premier League, and Tottenham Hotspur, who were considering renewing their interest in signing the winger during next month's transfer window.

The 24-year-old was capped twice by England in friendlies under Roy Hodgson, but has not played in a competitive match, leaving him eligible to play for Ivory Coast.

Southgate spoke to Zaha this month after being appointed England manager, having worked with him in the Under-21 side.

Zaha has decided that he wants to play for Ivory Coast, the country of his birth, and has been selected in their provisional squad for the tournament in Gabon, which starts on Jan 14.

Some former players and people close to Zaha tried to persuade him to delay the decision until the start of next season to see whether Southgate would back up his efforts by picking him.

Allardyce has admitted that Zaha, who has enjoyed his best season for Palace, scoring three and setting up six goals, would be a "massive" loss.

He will play against Arsenal on Sunday and then Swansea on Tuesday before travelling to Abu Dhabi for a training camp a day later.

He will potentially miss four league games, including one against relegation rivals Sunderland, and two FA Cup ties, if Ivory Coast reach the final on Feb 5.

Ivory Coast's group rivals include Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Morocco.

It is believed that Zaha will become the first to appear in official matches for two international teams including England since Jackie Sewell, who won six England caps in the 1950s and played for Zambia in the next decade.

Zaha was born in Abidjan before moving to London with his family at the age of four.

He played against Sweden and Scotland in 2013 but has grown frustrated at his lack of chances and was photographed holding an Ivory Coast shirt last month. He has applied to Fifa to play competitively for the Ivorians.

"The arrival of Zaha is great news," Michel Dussuyer, the Ivory Coast coach, said.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2016, with the headline 'Zaha rejects England to play for Ivory Coast'. Print Edition | Subscribe