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Soccer-COVID restrictions hit Cup of Nations qualifiers

SportMar 23, 2021 03:00
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© Reuters.

By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN, March 23 (Reuters) - Restrictions on travel from
Europe have left many African countries scrambling for players
for the final two rounds of African Cup of Nations qualifiers
which start on Wednesday.
FIFA's ruling that clubs do not have to release players for
international duty if they face quarantine on their return has
had an impact on almost all of the 48 countries involved, as the
race for places at next year's finals heads to a conclusion.
African national teams draw heavily on players based at
clubs in Europe and COVID-19 travel restrictions and quarantine
rules have disrupted their plans.
Countries such as Guinea, Mali, Senegal and Togo feared
being particularly hard hit after the French professional league
initially banned Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs from releasing
players for international duty outside the European Union
because of quarantine rules.
However, on Saturday, the French sports ministry said the
requirement to quarantine for seven days on return would be
waived for players as long as they complied with medical
Teams with players based in the United Kingdom have had to
make compromises to avoid sending them to countries on the
British government's "red list" which would mean a 10-day
quarantine on return.
Algeria agreed to leave Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez and
Said Benrahma of West Ham United out of the team to travel to
Zambia this week and use them only for their last qualifier at
home to Botswana on Sunday.
Ghana have agreed to Arsenal's request that Thomas Partey
should not travel to South Africa for Thursday's Group C meeting
but play only at home against Sao Tome & Principe in their final
qualifier on Sunday.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will lead Gabon at home against
the Democratic Republic of Congo in a key Group D game on
Thursday but not travel to Angola for their last game three days
Qualifiers run from Wednesday to next Tuesday with 19 places
still to be decided.
Former winners such as Egypt, Ghana, the Ivory Coast,
Morocco and Nigeria are all expected to qualify without too much
difficulty while the Comoros Islands and the Gambia have a
strong chance to qualify for the first time.
The Comoros, unbeaten after four Group G matches, can ensure
their berth at home to Togo on Thursday while the Gambia could
qualify if they beat Angola at home on the same day.
Holders Algeria, Mali, Senegal, Tunisia have already secured
a place at the finals, to be held in January. They qualified in
November after four of the six rounds of the group competition.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

Soccer-COVID restrictions hit Cup of Nations qualifiers

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