The start of 2022 World Cup qualifying matches will have to wait until next year in North and Central America and the Caribbean as coronavirus cases spike across the region, FIFA and CONCACAF announced Tuesday in a joint statement.
Qualifying games for the 2022 event were supposed to begin next month and continue with another round of games in the November fixture window. National teams in Europe resumed matches last week for the first time since the pandemic began in March. But with the situation deteriorating in Latin America — which last month became the epicenter of COVID-19 — the responsible choice was to hold off until March of 2021.
“Many parts of the region continue to have very challenging public health situations, and that has been a key factor in this decision,” the news release read. “Additionally, several countries across the confederation have travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, which would make international football involving 30 national teams extremely difficult.”
The move mostly impacts smaller nations within CONCACAF, countries vying to claim the final three spots in the new eight-team final round. Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and the United States are already confirmed for the “Octagonal,” which was supposed to kick off in June of next year. Although it wasn’t mentioned explicitly Tuesday, that timeline will have to be pushed back deeper into 2021. “CONCACAF will now work with FIFA to finalize a new schedule, beginning with the first round in March 2021,” the statement concluded.
"These are extraordinary times, and we all need to continue to adjust,” said U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter, whose team had a pair of March friendlies in Europe cancelled because of the health crisis. “We will deal with whatever comes our way. We look forward to receiving the updated schedule so we can plan accordingly."
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