World Cup qualifier in doubt as Colombia says no to Brazil

Colombia's Health Minister has rejected the idea of allowing a charter flight of Brazilian footballers to land in Colombia later this month.

A friendly game between Brazil and Colombia being played in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in September, 2019. - GETTY IMAGES

Colombia's Health Minister has rejected the idea of allowing a charter flight of Brazilian footballers to land in Colombia later this month, throwing the March 26 World Cup qualifier between the two nations into doubt. "The chance of receiving any flight from Brazil is very remote, there's no way to justify the arrival of a charter flight," the minister, Fernando Ruiz, said in a statement released on Friday.

The decision comes as FIFA and the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) are in talks to decide whether the double header of qualifiers for Qatar 2022 scheduled for March 25-26 and March 30 can go ahead.

European clubs, where a large number of South American players ply their trade, are unlikely to release their players to travel amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine restrictions. 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 U.K.-based players who played in the games would face 10 days in hotel quarantine on return.

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Colombia suspended flights to and from Brazil at the end of January as cases there began to rise and a new more contagious strain appeared.

Some 1,910 people died in Brazil on Wednesday, a record daily high. More than 260,000 have perished in the South American nation, more than anywhere in the world outside the United States. Members of CONMEBOL met on Friday and said: "FIFA are committed to finding a solution to the impasse."

They acknowledged that European-based players are not free to travel and said another meeting between FIFA and CONMEBOL is planned for Saturday discuss the issue.