BLACKBURN Rovers will not lose striker Rudy Gestede to the Africa Cup of Nations – and now they will turn their attentions to getting him fit for Friday’s Championship opener at home to his former club Cardiff City.

Gestede’s dreams of appearing in the Morocco showpiece in January were dashed at the weekend when his international side Benin lost their second-round qualifier to Malawi.

The 25-year-old played a starring role in the first leg as Benin took a 1-0 lead into Saturday’s second leg in Blantyre, deep in south east Africa.

But he was unable to make the 10,000-mile round trip after falling victim to the sickness bug that spread throughout the Rovers camp last week.

Without their towering targetman Benin went down to a 1-0 defeat to Malawi before crashing out 4-3 on penalties.

Gestede missed Rovers’ final three pre-season friendlies through illness.

But Gary Bowyer is hopeful he will have recovered his strength in time to take his place in the squad for Friday’s live Sky Sports clash with the Bluebirds.

The Rovers boss said: “Rudy came back and he wasn’t very good at all.

“We tried to get him back and he took part in the open training day but he could only last half a session.

“He felt weak and he was unable to travel (with Benin) but he is getting his strength back.

“The illness hasn’t helped him but that would be the same for anybody who contracted the illness – and we did, we had quite a few who got the bug.

“But hopefully everybody is over it and I suppose if there is a good time to get it, it is before the season starts.

“We’re just looking forward to Friday now.”

The other player who has been struggling with the effects of the bug is winger Ben Marshall.

But Bowyer, speaking after Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home to Stoke City, said: “Ben trained this morning.

“He’s getting stronger every day and I fully expect him to be in the squad on Friday.”

Marshall and Gestede played for Rovers in a behind-closed-doors 2-2 draw with Oldham Athletic yesterday.

Rovers U21s, meanwhile, continue their pre-season preparations with a second successive trip to Cumbria tonight to take on Workington (7pm).

Eric Kinder’s charges came from two goals down to draw 2-2 at Penrith on Saturday.

And Rovers U21s boss Kinder said: “We need to be more clinical in front of goal and cut out the silly errors at the back.

“The squad is coming together nicely, I’ve been pleased with the way we’ve performed.”