Copa Libertadores returns but not all clubs are happy

The Copa Libertadores, which will feature 32 teams from 10 countries, will begin this week but many clubs are unhappy as domestic football is yet to resume in all nations.

Copa Libertadores

The Copa Libertadores is set to begin this week while the Copa Sudamericana will restart in late October.   -  Reuters

Copa Libertadores, South American football's premier club competition, kicks off this week after a six-month hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic but the restart has caused complaints and consternation in a region where the sport is not yet fully up and running.

A total of 32 teams from 10 countries will play matches in the Copa Libertadores on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, even though domestic football is still to restart in three of them, including regional giant Argentina.

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“Argentine teams have been called upon to compete at a disadvantage and they are not ready for it,” said Nicolas Russo, the president of Lanus and a director of the Argentine Football Association.

The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) is celebrating the return of the continent's equivalent of the Champions League, and its second-tier competition the Copa Sudamericana, the South American version of the Europa League that will restart on October 27.

But with different nations restarting their domestic programmes at different times - Brazil restarted in June; Colombia kicked off at the weekend; Argentina won't begin until at least October -- some teams are crying foul.

Racing coach Sebastian Beccacece said Thursday's opponents Nacional of Uruguay will have played almost a dozen times since restarting, while the home side has not played any games.

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“That's a real and overwhelming advantage,” said Beccacece. “We need to trust that we'll be strong and can appeal to our mental and emotional capacity to try and make up for that initial difference because we will also be without the energy of our fans that are so vital to us. But we have to be ready for the challenge,” he added.

- Reducing risk -

All games will take place behind closed doors but with infection rates still high - more than half of all recorded COVID-19 cases are in the Americas as per the World Health Organisation - there is a fear that flying teams of players across the enormous continent risks spreading the virus.

CONMEBOL struck a deal with national governments aimed at reducing risk, with the organisation paying for charter flights and demanding that teams spend no more than 72 hours in foreign nations.

However, hardly a week goes by without a team reporting positive tests for their players.

One league game in Brazil was called off minutes before kick off last month when players tested positive for the virus. The entire league program in Peru was suspended temporarily when fans gathered outside stadiums.

Boca Juniors recently found that 22 of their players, or almost all of the first team squad, tested positive for the virus. The players self-isolated and returned to training last week, a move that further hampered the clubs preparation for its match in Paraguay against Libertad.

CONMEBOL has allowed each team to register 50 players for the competition, up from the usual 30, in a sign that it expects more positive tests to occur.

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