Conmebol cancels March World Cup qualifiers as European clubs refuse player releases

March 8 – South America’s World Cup qualifiers in March have been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions, leaving continental governing body Conmebol with a headache to reschedule the fixtures in a heavily congested calendar.

The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc once again in international football. South America’s 10 countries were due to play a double header of qualifiers at the end of March as part of the marathon qualifying campaign for the next global finals, but Conmebol have been forced to postpone those fixtures as it became clear European-based players would struggle to get club releases because of travel restrictions and quarantine regulations.

Conmebol held a joint meeting with FIFA to seek a way out, but unlike last November no solution was found.

“The decision is due to the impossibility…of counting on all the South American players,” said Conmebol in a statement. “FIFA will analyse the rescheduling of the round in coordination with Conembol and the members associations.”

The matches were placed in jeopardy due to the refusal of top clubs in the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga to release their Europe-based stars in order to travel across for the qualifiers. Brazil vs Argentina in Refice is one of the matches affected by the decision.

How and when the South American ruling body and the world federation will reschedule the fixtures remains to be seen. The qualifiers had been due to kick off a year ago in March 2020, were then rearranged for September but had to be postponed again because of the global health crisis. In October and November, four rounds of matches were completed. With qualifying having started, the idea of reorganising them under any different schedule or criteria becomes increasingly difficult.

This summer, Colombia and Argentina will host the Copa America, leaving no time to reschedule any qualifiers. Nor can the Copa America be used with any kind of competition integrity as doubling up as World Cup qualifiers. One alternative might be to use the Copa America dates as qualifiers or even to mould the Copa America into a format to accommodate 2022 qualification.

The South American World Cup qualifiers pit all ten countries in home-and-away match against each other, requiring 18 rounds of matches to conclude and produce four direct qualified teams. A fifth team will play in intercontinental play-offs. At the moment, Brazil top the table with four wins from four.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1664153072labto1664153072ofdlr1664153072owedi1664153072sni@o1664153072fni1664153072