CONMEBOL suspends March World Cup qualifiers due to pandemic

CONMEBOL says tightening lockdown and quarantine regulations mean many of the European-based players will be unable to travel for the games.

Action from a World Cup qualifier contest between Argentina and Uruguay in October, 2013. - GETTY IMAGES

The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) has decided to suspend this month's double header of World Cup qualifiers for Qatar 2022 amid concern over the COVID-19 pandemic and strict quarantine restrictions.

The 10 South American teams were due to play two games on March 25/26 and March 30 but CONMEBOL acknowledged tightening lockdown and quarantine regulations mean many of the European-based players will be unable to travel. Among the matches affected are Brazil's games against Argentina and Colombia, and the River Plate derby between Argentina and Uruguay.

"The decision is due to the impossibility...of counting on all the South American players," the Paraguay-based confederation said in a statement. "FIFA will analyse the rescheduling of the round in coordination with CONMEBOL and the members associations."

Each team has played four of their 18 qualifiers.

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The top four in the 10-team group qualify automatically for Qatar and the fifth-placed side go into an inter-regional playoff.

However, the fifth and sixth games have looked increasingly unlikely since last week as European clubs, where a large number of South American players ply their trade, said they were reluctant to release their players.

All 10 South American countries feature on the U.K. government's "red list" travel ban, which does not include exemptions for athletes and sports people. Any UK-based players who went to South America would face 10 days in hotel quarantine on return.

Further complicating matters, Colombia on Friday said it would not allow a Brazilian charter flight to land, throwing the March 26 game between the two nations into doubt.

In Brazil, 1,910 people died from COVID-19 on Wednesday, a record daily high. More than 260,000 have died from the disease in the South American nation, more than anywhere in the world apart from the United States.