CAF postpones Africa World Cup qualifiers to June 2021

The 2022 World Cup qualifiers were due to begin in October but the impact of COVID-19 has seen a reshuffle in the African international football calendar.

Football

The preliminary World Cup competition will now be played in four windows next year, with two games each.   -  Getty Images / Representative Photo

The start of the African group stage qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup have been shifted to June next year and will be completed in a five-month dash for a place in Qatar, according to a Confederation of African Football memo seen by Reuters.

The qualifiers were due to begin in October, but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a reshuffle in the African international football calendar.

The continent continues to be hard hit by the pandemic, with only a handful of domestic competitions of countries like South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco currently under way.

The preliminary World Cup competition will now be played in four windows next year, with two games each.

The pool stages run from May 31 to June 15, and continue in the FIFA windows from August 30 to September 7 and October 4 to 12.

The 10 pool stage winners will then advance to a playoff round where the victor will earn a place in Qatar. Those matches will be played between November 8 to 16.

READ | UEFA seeks player exemptions from quarantine after travel

The October window this year will be kept free for national teams to use for friendlies if conditions allow for them, before matchdays three and four of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations preliminaries get staged from November 9 to 17.

The final two rounds of those qualifiers, where the top two teams in each of the eight pools qualify for the postponed finals in Cameroon in early 2022, are scheduled to be played in March 22 to 30 next year.

Lack of testing facilities and poor infrastructure make containing the virus in Africa a challenge for health authorities and at this stage November's qualifiers could be viewed as ambitious for a continent-wide opening of borders that allows quarantine-free travel.

As of Wednesday, Africa had recorded 1.14 million cases, more than half of those in South Africa, but there are likely millions more across the continent that have gone undetected.

African qualification calendar:

Oct 5-13, 2020: Open for friendly matches

Nov 9-17, 2020: Match Day 3 & 4 (2021 Nations Cup)

Mar 22-30, 2021: Match Day 5 & 6 (2021 Nations Cup)

May 31-Jun 15, 2021: Match Day 1 & 2 (2022 World Cup)

Aug 30-Sep 7, 2021: Match Day 3 & 4 (2022 World Cup)

Oct 4-12, 2021: Match Day 5 & 6 (2022 World Cup)

Nov 8-16, 2021: Play-off round (2022 World Cup)

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