S American World Cup qualifiers in doubt

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp says players can't play internationals then quarantine for 10 days.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp says players can't play internationals then quarantine for 10 days.

This month's World Cup qualifiers in South America are in serious doubt, with European clubs unlikely to release their players to travel amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine restrictions.

World soccer's governing body FIFA has relaxed its normal rules about player-release for internationals because of the pandemic and worries about the impact of long-distance travel to areas with high case-rates.

Instead, clubs are expected to keep their players at home.

All 10 South American countries feature on the UK government's "red list" travel ban, which does not include exemptions for athletes and sports people.

Any UK-based players who played in the games would face 10 days in hotel quarantine on return.

That in itself makes it difficult for clubs to consider agreeing to CONMEBOL's requests.

"I think everybody agrees - we can't let the players go and play for their country and then quarantine for 10 days in a hotel," said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, whose team includes Brazilian trio Alisson Becker, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino.

South American confederation CONMEBOL, which organises the qualifiers in the region for the 2022 World Cup, wants clubs to release their players for the March 25 and 30 games, but it is running out of options.

CONMEBOL said its council will meet on Friday to discuss the situation and added that it is in contact with FIFA as it searches for a solution.

FIFA said it has yet to make any demands on CONMEBOL.

"FIFA hasn't made any specific request at this stage. Further information will be provided in due course," said the Zurich-based governing body.

CONMEBOL is reluctant to play the games without European-based players and has not considered moving the fixtures to "bubbles" in Europe.

It faces a scheduling problem, however, as their continental championship, Copa America, is set for June in Argentina and Colombia.

With 14 rounds of matches still to be completed in the World Cup qualifying process, which is due to end in March 2022, there is limited space for the games.

"It is difficult to postpone the FIFA dates, there is no space, you cannot tighten the qualifiers," Ecuador FA president Francisco Egas told his local station Radio La Red.

"There is strong pressure from European clubs not to give up their players for the qualifiers. FIFA must be in the middle to help get an understanding," he added.

One option could be to play the games just before the June 11 start to the Copa America. One source indicated CONMEBOL may ask FIFA to create a special extra "window" for rearranged games.

Australian Associated Press