ZURICH (AP) — The start of World Cup qualifying for lower-ranked teams in North and Central America and the Caribbean was postponed Tuesday until next year, which means there aren't enough remaining dates in the current FIFA calendar to complete the program.
FIFA and regional soccer body CONCACAF said qualifiers that had been scheduled for October and November had to be pushed back because of travel and quarantine rules during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Many parts of the region continue to have very challenging public health situations, and that has been a key factor in this decision,” the two governing bodies said in a joint statement.
Thirty lower-ranked nations were due to play four qualifiers each this year but those games should now start in March 2021. Only three of those teams will advance to join the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras in a final eight-team group, from which three teams will qualify directly for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
However, it was unclear how FIFA and CONCACAF will reschedule games. The final eight-team group had been scheduled to start in June, but those dates could now be needed to complete the six-team playoffs among the lower-ranked nations. If so, the big teams like the U.S. and Mexico may not play their first qualifying games until September 2021.
“These are extraordinary times, and we all need to continue to adjust,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We have established a strong foundation in our group and we will deal with whatever comes our way. We look forward to receiving the updated schedule so we can plan accordingly.”
CONCACAF said a new schedule “will be communicated in due course.”
The pandemic has upended qualifying plans globally.
South American teams were due to begin in March but will start at least one year behind schedule.
CONCACAF already changed its original format which would have seen the top-ranked teams play in a six-team group, known as the hexagonal.
FIFA manages a coordinated global calendar of match days, for which clubs are obliged to release their players to national-team duty.
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