SouthAm World Cup qualifiers postponed as clubs refuse to release players

Asuncion, Mar 6 (efe-epa).- The South American Soccer Confederation (Conmebol) announced Saturday that it was postponing World Cup qualifiers set for this month in the face of European clubs’ unwillingness to release players due to Covid-19.

Conmebol shared the news after its top officials had their second video-conference in three days with FIFA head Gianni Infantino.

The announcement did not offer specify dates for the fifth and sixth rounds of the regional qualifiers, but sources with the various national associations said they expect the games to be played in September and October.

The majority of South America’s elite footballers play for clubs in Europe, where they can earn vastly more money.

Teams across Europe have expressed misgivings about letting South America players travel across the Atlantic amid the pandemic, but the strongest opposition has come from English clubs.

Citing the United Kingdom’s pandemic travel regulations, which require anyone arriving from countries on London’s Red List – including every nation in South America – to spend 10 days isolating in a hotel, Premier League sides say they can’t risk having their players’ absences extended for quarantine.

And in the context of the pandemic, FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, is not exerting pressure on clubs to release players for international ties.

Media outlets reported that several national associations in South America rejected a proposal to play the March qualifiers in Europe.

While a suggestion from a group including the Uruguayan and Paraguayan associations to hold the matches as scheduled with the players on hand failed to achieve a consensus.

Last year, Conmebol managed to hold the first four rounds of World Cup qualifiers, playing in empty stadiums under strict health rules.

But the crisis has become more acute in South America in recent weeks, especially in Brazil, which is second only to the United States in Covid-19 deaths.

Colombia’s health minister, Fernando Ruiz, said Friday that under the present circumstances, he would oppose allowing the Brazilian national soccer team to enter his country for a March 26 qualifying match.

Brazil leads the South American standings, taking all 12 possible points from its four matches. Argentina is second with 10 points, one more than Ecuador.

Paraguay and Uruguay are tied for fourth with 6 points.

The top four finishers in Conmebol qualify directly for the 2022 World Cup. The fifth-place side gets the chance to reach the final via a playoff against a team from another region. EFE jm/dr

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