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Dec 11, 2009

Hodgson will risk points loss to play Pantsil

Fulham and Ghana are set for a collision course over the availability of defender John Pantsil, with the Premier League club risking a loss of points if they play him against Chelsea on December 28.

Manager Roy Hodgson is adamant that Pantsil will face Chelsea, despite FIFA requirements stating international players must be released two weeks before the African Nations Cup, which falls on December 27.

Should Pantsil play against Chelsea, the Football Association of Ghana can request that any points Fulham pick up against Carlo Ancelotti's side be forfeited. Hodgson insisted, however, that Pantsil will play in the west London derby.

"I expect Pantsil to be playing for us on the 28th and he will unless FIFA intervene and insist he goes,'' Hodgson said. "It's a bit disrespectful of the African nations to write to the English clubs asking their players to be released on the 27th of December. They know that we all have matches on the 28th.

Chelsea will be one of the worst affected clubs by the disruptively-timed African Nations Cup, with midfielders Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel and forwards Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou all set to leave the club for crucial Premier League fixtures, starting with Fulham. Hodgson said he would rather have Pantsil available and face the might of Essien than sacrifice his man to meet a weakened Chelsea.

"It's probably just a little bit of oversight on their part and I don't expect for one minute for Ghana to insist that John Pantsil meets up with them on 27th, the day before we play Chelsea, or Michael Essien leave for the same fixture.''

Hodgson said yesterday the club had received a letter from the Ghana FA asking that Pantsil be released for the training camp, which is taking place in Nelspruit in north-eastern South Africa.

A host of Premier League players are taking part in the tournament, which is taking place in Angola. Hodgson expects all the African Nations teams that begin their training camps on 27 December to back down and ask their players to report two days later given there are six league fixtures on December 28.

However, the Ghana FA hit back at Hodgson, branding his comments as "unprofessional".

"He cannot just go and say that. I am surprised that a man of his standing is taking this stance,'' a Ghana FA spokesman said. "Mr Hodgson does not determine what the law is. He doesn't have the power to breach the law.''

One way the two sides can resolve the matter is if Fulham come to an agreement with the Ghana FA which allows Pantsil to join up with his international team-mates after the Chelsea game, but after Hodgson's comments this is now unlikely.

"The laws are clear and we have to go about it in a professional matter," he said. "The issue here is flexibility. To go out and take that position in public through the media he is being a bit unprofessional.''

Hodgson's short-term focus, meanwhile, is on Saturday's Premier League match with Burnley. With strikers Andrew Johnson (groin) and Diomansy Kamara (knee) sidelined, Bobby Zamora is expected to lead the line at Turf Moor.

Zamora has been criticised by sections of the Craven Cottage crowd this season and celebrated last week's winner against Sunderland by pressing his index finger against his lips in a silencing gesture.

The 28-year-old, who was linked with a move away from the club this summer, even pushed away two of his players to ensure that fans at the Hammersmith End of the ground saw his protest. Hodgson criticised the former Tottenham striker for the celebration but maintains he is still a key part of his squad.

"If you ask me do I think it was a sensible celebration, then no, I don't think it was,'' Hodgson said. "I have no idea what he was thinking. I wouldn't even dream of trying to explain his celebration. I think he has played well for a long period of time since he came to the club and has played almost every game.''

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