South American national football teams will have to start their World Cup qualifying matches by September if they are to get every game finished in time for the tournament in 2022, it has emerged.
A new blueprint for a post-coronavirus world shows the CONMEBOL confederation, the region's governing body, requires 20 ‘FIFA Dates’ to complete the qualification process by November 2022.
This involves 18 home and away matches for the 10 teams involved, with the top four automatically qualifying for the tournament in Qatar. A fifth-placed team would then go forward for two international play-offs which would take place in June 2022.
There are 10 countries the CONMEBOL group – Columbia, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru and Uruguay.
However, the crowded fixture list would still leave room for the Copa América – postponed by the coronavirus in June 2020 – to take place a year in the summer of 2021.
The global shutdown of football by the coronavirus pandemic has played havoc with fixture schedules both on the international stage and at the domestic level.
The new World Cup qualification plan is based on a study of the calendar of FIFA’s ‘fixed dates for International matches,' or ‘FIFA Dates’ between now and 2022.
Despite the first two CONMEBOL matchdays in March being postponed by the Covid-19, it is still possible to complete everything because FIFA has moved the tournament to the winter of 2022 to avoid the searing summer heat in the Gulf.
Ironically what was criticised at the time as an unwelcome disruption to the fixture lists of the European leagues has now proved a blessing – buying everyone an extra six months to finish World Cup qualifiers.
Under the new timetable, the world’s six footballing confederations have different deadlines from when they would have to restart the qualifiers, ranging from September 2020 to March 2021.
UEFA, for example, has just 12 ‘FIFA dates’ for its 10 groups, and does not have to start its qualification matches for another year.
Given that the European countries have been some of the hardest hit by Covid-19, it’s lucky that they do not have to start playing qualifiers until March 2021.
As with the Copa América, UEFA will also be able fit in the Euros next summer, after they too were postponed this year.
Under its plan UEFA would finish its 10 qualifying matches by March 2022, and use the two ‘FIFA dates’ in June 2022 for play-offs with 12 nations involved in one-legged two stage fixtures.
Under this scenario, UEFA would still be able to stage the Nations League in September, October and November 2020 – if there is sufficient recovery from the virus by then.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is the hardest hit in terms of population density, Covid-19 reach and qualifying schedule, with 18 match dates needing to be played.
These will have to start in October 2020 if the AFC is to get through their group stage by November 2021, in time for continental and intercontinental play-offs from March-June 2022.
The latest that CONCACAF – the North and Central American, and Caribbean confederation – can start its matches is November 2020. Under this scenario their own play-off would have to be played in March 2022 in order for their representative to play their intercontinental clash in June 2022.
The Oceania Football Confederation (OFC), which includes New Zealand and Pacific island countries, can easily handle staging its whole qualification process between March 2021 and March 2022.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF), with just eight FIFA dates needed, has the most time to schedule its qualifying tournament. If it starts its qualifiers in March 2021 it can finish the six-round group stage by October 2021, with the two November FIFA dates for its five home-and-away final qualifiers.
Football sources pointed out that if FIFA is able to stick to this timetable it will safeguard each confederation’s revenues. But it does rely on the domestic leagues being up and running by then as, otherwise, there could be no international football.
One source said: "These qualifying formats maximise each confederation’s and its member association’s marketing and TV revenues.
‘’So while clubs and leagues are facing many dilemmas, including possible revenue hits, international competitions can avoid a financial hit, as long as international football can resume in September or October."
He added that "had the World Cup been in June-July 2022, a change in qualifying format and consequently reduction of games and revenues for confederations would have been inevitable."
If international football cannot resume by Autumn, a change of format would still be needed, possibly involving bringing countries together for a period of two weeks for mini-tournaments, the source added.
If play-offs are switched to June 2022, FIFA can still proceed with the finals’ draw in April 2022 or they could wait until the other five nations have qualified for the finals after the FIFA dates of June 2020.
|South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL)||20|
|Asian Football Confederation (AFC)||18|
|Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF)||14|
|Oceania Football Confederation (OFC)||14|
|Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)||12|
|Confederation of African Football (CAF)||8|