Hearts rocked by last-minute African Cup of Nations call-up for Faycal Rherras, while Juanma finally leaves for Japan

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BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport

HEARTS could be without Faycal Rherras for their crunch Premiership fixtures against Celtic and Rangers after the defender earned a dramatic late call-up to Morocco’s African Cup of Nations squad.

Rherras, 23, was left out of Herve Renard’s initial 23-man roster for the tournament in Gabon, which kicks off tomorrow afternoon.

However, he was drafted in to the group last night following the withdrawal of Southampton star Soufian Boufal due to a knee injury.

The former St Trudien full-back, who has won two full caps for the Atlas Lions since making the switch to Tynecastle last summer, will now be absent for Hearts’ Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Raith Rovers next Saturday.

Morocco face DR Congo on Monday before further group phase fixtures against Togo (Jan 20) and reigning champions Ivory Coast (Jan 24).

However, with the final due to take place on February 5, progress for Morocco could see Rherras miss the mouth-watering trip to face Celtic on (Jan 29), the visit of Rangers on (Feb 1) and an encounter against Motherwell at Fir Park on (Feb 4).

Hearts are already without key midfielder Arnaud Djoum, who is part of Cameroon’s squad at the tournament.

Meanwhile, the Jambos have confirmed that Spanish striker Juanma Delgado has left Tynecastle to join Japanese side V-Varen Nagasaki on a permanent deal.

The 26-year-old was the Jambos top-scorer last season, bagging 13 goals following his arrival from Greek side Kalloni. However, he found the net just four times in the second half of the season as his form dipped dramatically.

Juanma subsequently found himself behind the likes of Conor Sammon, Robbie Muirhead, Tony Watt and Bjorn Johnsen in the pecking order this term and spent the first half of the season on loan in his homeland with UCAM Murcia.

That deal has now been annulled to allow the bustling attacker front-man to complete his move to the Far East.

It is understood Hearts have not received any fee for Juanma, who had 18 months left to run on his deal, with the club simply happy to have one of their bigger earners off the wage bill to give new head coach Ian Cathro more room for manoeuvre in the January transfer window.

Juanma is the third high-profile player to leave the club this January, following Tony Watt, whose loan deal from Charlton was cancelled, and former club captain Alim Ozturk, who exited for Turkish side Boluspor – also for no fee.

Aaron Hughes and Lennard Sowah have arrived, with further signings expected as Cathro uses January to reshape the Jambos’ squad.

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