SAmerican coaches protest European clubs blocking players
SAO PAULO (AP) — Coaches of South American national teams protested on Saturday against European clubs that pressured their players into skipping three rounds of World Cup qualifiers this month.
Brazil’s Tite, Argentina’s Lionel Scaloni, Colombia’s Reinaldo Rueda and Chile’s Martin Lasarte want FIFA to resolve the problem before another three rounds of the 10-team round robin scheduled in October.
Several England-based players, following advice from their clubs, did not travel due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the British government, which has red-listed South America, meaning mandatory hotel quarantine if they go there and return. Brazil also lost two Zenit St. Petersburg players minutes before boarding a flight to Chile because their club called them back to Russia.
Argentina, though, did not lose any of the four it summoned, and Colombia received defender Davinson Sanchez.
Tite said he’s without nine English Premier League players, including five frequent starters. He was in agreement with another aggrieved coach, Lasarte. They spoke on Thursday after Brazil beat Chile 1-0 in Santiago. Brazil hosts Argentina on Sunday.
“He (Lasarte) told me it is absurd what they are doing to us, we need to have equality to bring all of our players,” Tite said. “He said we could count on him for any protest and I said the same. We need to be on the same page. We are not with the same conditions to prepare for the World Cup, and that is a privilege to others. Especially European national teams.”
Rueda said the issue needs to be handed with care “because national teams should also be cautious with a player’s daily life at his club.”
“But we have FIFA’s support,” he added about national teams having the right to bring players. “Players are speaking to their clubs in Europe. Our hope is that we can end the next fixtures without any inconvenience.”
FIFA granted two additional catch-up days for South America in September and October so three qualifiers can be played in each window, rather than the usual two. It also told CONMEBOL there will be consequences for clubs which don’t release players as required, which could mean disciplinary action.
But the complaints from European clubs center on South America’s third game being on Sept. 9, a Thursday. That is less than two days before domestic leagues resume in Europe.
Scaloni wants the issue discussed as soon as possible and supported any sanctions, without giving names of people or organizations.
“These rounds are being played because it was all too quick, but we can’t compete like this,” Scaloni said. “I understand the other national teams and give them total support. You can do this for one or two matches. But no more.”
Argentina received Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez and Emiliano Buendia and Tottenham’s Giovanni Lo Celso and Cristian Romero reportedly for just two of the three upcoming qualifiers, but Scaloni denied any such arrangement.
These players could become a last-minute problem for Argentina, also due to COVID-19 protocols.
Brazil’s health agency said in a statement that all four told immigration officers they hadn’t recently been to the United Kingdom or any other country the South American nation puts on a red list for COVID-19 risks.
“Travelers who were in the U.K., South Africa, Northern Ireland and India within the latest 14 days, with some exceptions (for example Brazilian nationals) should not enter national territory. They must quarantine previously in another country before entering Brazil,” the health agency said. “Giving false information to Brazilian authorities could constitute a health infraction and violation of local laws.”
Sao Paulo state’s health secretariat said in another statement that local investigators are visiting Argentina’s hotel to check documents, putting in doubt whether the four Argentines will play on Sunday.
“We will report all the information so the national health agency decides whether the athletes will need to quarantine,” it said.
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