In a late blow for the Atlas Lions of Morocco, attacking midfielder Sofiane Boufal has been ruled out of participating in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon due to injury.

The Southampton starlet had been in a training camp with his Moroccan team-mates in the United Arab Emirates, in preparation for the upcoming AFCON, when his injury became a reality and he was forced to accept the fact that he would play no part in the 2017 Nations Cup.

The Moroccan Football Federation made it clear that the 23-year-old was forced to return home from the training camp, but failed to shed light on the nature of the injury.

‘Sofiane left the camp in Al-Ain this morning after the confirmation of his injury and his inability to take part in the African Cup. He will be replaced by another player whose name will be announced later,’ a statement from the Moroccan football federation revealed.

While the injury was not specified by the national association, Southampton coach Claude Puel told the English media that Boufal was suffering from inflammation of the knee.

Morocco’s misfortune was compounded by the fact that another of their stars was recently ruled out of the tournament, which starts this coming weekend.

Midfield maestro Younes Belhanda suffered an injury while representing French club Nice at the end of December. The 26-year-old broke his toe, requiring 4-6 weeks in order to recover, ruling him out of the AFCON for the North Africans.

The nature of the game and the rigorous club schedules that the top players are expected to manage means that injuries have become a frequent and unfortunate consequence of the professional game.

This often leads to certain star players succumbing to injuries in the weeks and months before major tournaments, ruling them out of taking part. Boufal’s absence will be a severe blow to Morocco’s attacking prospects, as the talented midfielder is often the architect of successful forward momentum for the Atlas Lions.

Morocco is drawn in Group C alongside Ivory Coast, DR Congo and Togo, with the first match set for January 16 in Oyem against the Congolese.