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South American World Cup qualifiers postponed

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Posted: Tuesday, March 9, 2021. 11:31 am CST.

By Rubén Morales Iglesias, Belize City: South American football associations refused to play this month’s World Cup qualifiers if their European-based players were not released to them, so CONMEBOL, the South American football confederation, called off the World Cup qualifiers set for this month.

Covid-19 restrictions resulted in European clubs like Manchester City, Liverpool, and Paris St Germain, saying they would not release their South American players if they had to quarantine after returning from the WC qualifiers.

Countries like Brazil and Argentina have been red-listed because of a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Additionally, Colombia, who were to play Brazil in Barranquilla, said they would not allow flights from that country, at least not yet.

FIFA had already given European clubs permission not to release players because of the COVID-19 travel and quarantine restrictions.

The situation meant that players like Messi and Neymar would not be able to join their national squads. Team managers were not willing to play because they would be giving up a big advantage, even though Brazil manager Tite was said to have considered fielding a team without any European-based players. But, Brazil, because of the sheer number of professional players could be able to field more than one competitive team at any given time.

CONMEBOL did not want to suspend the two rounds of qualifying matches set to play from March 25 to 30 because of the possibility of having to cancel the upcoming Copa America. But in the end, they had to concede and proceeded to suspend the games because of “the impossibility of having all South American players” available for the games.

“FIFA will analyze the rescheduling of the fixtures, in coordination with CONMEBOL and its members,” CONMEBOL said.

FIFA said the postponement came after “discussions with our South American Member Associations in conjunction with CONMEBOL and taking into consideration the existing volatility around travel and quarantine restrictions.”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp were among the European managers set against allowing their players to travel because it meant that they would miss games on their return because they would have to quarantine. The European leagues are at a stage where clubs are engaged in a do-or-die battle to win their championships and are not willing to give up any advantage to their rivals.

“I think it makes no sense if the players go to the national team and then have to isolate for 10 days when they come back,” Guardiola said. “They are not going to fly. That’s for sure. If they can fly, play with the national team and come straight back to training, they’ll fly.”

In France, the quarantine period set by the French government requires that anyone entering from outside Europe, has to self-isolate for seven days apart from a returning a negative Covid-19 test result upon completion of the quarantine.

PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino: “We have to find the best solution so the competitions remain as fair as possible, and so the players receive equal treatment regardless of the country where they play.”

PSG would have lost the services of Neymar, Marquinhos, and Angel DiMaria for a couple of games if they would have traveled.

Apart from that, South American countries have problems of their own caused by COVID-19.

Brazil had a game scheduled against Colombia in Barranquilla on March 26 but would not have been able to travel because Colombia has shut down all flights from Brazil. Colombia’s health minister Fernando Ruiz Gómez said his country will not permit flights from the neighboring country because of the coronavirus spike in Brazil.

“To open that possibility (of a flight from Brazil) would be very worrying,” minister Fernando Ruiz Gómez said.

European nations themselves are being affected because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions and a number of them have decided to play their home games on neutral turf. Portugal will play their World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan in Turin, Italy, instead of Lisbon, while Norway have given up playing in Oslo and will fly to Malaga, Spain, to host Turkey.

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