BLACKBURN Rovers striker Rudy Gestede has put his international dream on hold in order to be fit and firing for the start of pre-season.

Fans’ favourite Gestede was supposed to be in action for Benin today in their African Cup of Nations qualifier away to Sao Tome and Principe.

But, instead of travelling to the island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, the 25-year-old has remained at home to rest the groin injury that troubled him toward the end of the campaign.

The problem did not prevent Gestede from firing in nine goals in his final nine starts of the season.

But the France-born frontman, who was named the Championship’s player of the month for April, is not prepared to take any risks.

That said the former France U19s international still intends to help Benin, who he qualifies for through his grandmother, to their first African Cup of Nations since 2010.

“When I was younger I played with France but the French team is a high level and the players play for the biggest teams in the world,” said Gestede, who has scored two goals in four games for the West African nation since switching allegiances last year.

“But now I’ve got my side and the choice was easy to do. They called me up four or five years ago but I was younger and I was waiting for France to maybe give me a go.

“But now I’m older and I know where I want to go. I have a dream but I want to be realistic as well.

“Benin is a good team in Africa, we are improving, with young players, and we are trying to qualify for the African Cup of Nations in January.”

For Benin, whose squad also features former Accrington Stanley midfielder Rommy Boco, to make next year’s finals in Morocco they will have to negotiate two rounds of qualifying and then a further group stage.

Gestede knows it will be a tall order.

But on the domestic front he is confident that Rovers can be genuine promotion contenders in 2014-15.

“We are going to challenge next year,” said Gestede.

“We’ve got a strong team, a strong bench, and young players who are coming good – everything is there.

“With a few more players, or even if we keep the same team, we will be strong.”

Rovers boss Gary Bowyer, meanwhile, is in India for a meeting with the club’s owners Venky’s.

Bowyer will discover his budget for next season at the Pune talks.