Conmebol keeps October dates for 2022 qualifiers, clubs mandated to release players

September 16 – Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Conmebol has maintained October’s World Cup qualifying fixtures following consultation with FIFA.

South America’s World Cup qualification marathon had been due to kick-off in March, but following the Covid-19 crisis the spring and September matches were lost. Now, with pressure growing on the congested calendar, the South American governing body has decided to keep October’s World Cup qualifiers in place, even if the health crisis and logistics surrounding those matches remain uncertain.

The decision was taken after a virtual meeting with FIFA where it was agreed FIFA will demand clubs release players, though no guarantees can be given over players’ entries and exits from countries. This will be problematic for European-based players, who could be subject to quarantine when they return from South America.

Conmebol overcame a logistics nightmare to organise the resumption of the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League. On Tuesday, Colo Colo defeated Penarol and Atheltico Paranaense won away to Jorge Wilstermann with Conmebol implementing unprecedented measures to ensure the competition could go ahead.

The confederation will be chartering flights for other clubs this week, have negotiated open borders across the region for club delegations and limited the participants to a maximum of 72 hours on foreign soil in its medical protocol.

But those regional measures will not be enough during the World Cup qualifiers when players from all over the planet traditionally assemble in South America to play before returning to their clubs. Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia are understood to have asked for another postponement because they don’t want to play the qualifiers without their foreign-based players.

With four rounds of matches to catch up to, Conmebol is under pressure to get qualifying underway. Next year’s Copa America, postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic as well, leaves little wriggle room in the calendar. Conmebol have chosen not to modify the round-robin format that requires 18 rounds of matches.

In an official statement, the confederation said that a new meeting has been planned for Thursday to further discuss the issue.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1627202744labto1627202744ofdlr1627202744owedi1627202744sni@o1627202744fni1627202744