South American stars face burn out with World Cup qualifiers and delayed Copa America games alongside their club duties

South American stars face burn out with World Cup qualifiers and delayed Copa America games alongside their club duties

November 24, 2020

EUROPEAN clubs are seldom happy about releasing their South American players for international duty.

Especially when they come back having picked up the coronavirus and not able to take the field, as happened to Atletico Madrid’s Luis Suarez, who was forced to sit out an eagerly awaited reunion with Barcelona.

But, with the coronavirus wiping out South America’s international dates in March and September, there were only two trips across the Atlantic this year, for the double headed World Cup qualifying dates in October and November.

There is nothing else until the end of March – by which time it is to be hoped that the worst of the pandemic is in the past.

But after that, the games come thick and fast – and so, surely, will come the complaints of the European clubs.

After March, there are more World Cup qualifiers in June, September, October and November, before the campaign comes to a close with more games in January and March 2022.

And in the middle of all this, there is a Copa America – originally scheduled for this June and July, but since put back twelve months.

This is a bizarre competition, staged in Argentina and Colombia, countries at opposite ends of a large continent.

Rather than the standard Copa format of three groups of four, this one has two groups of six, meaning that the competition takes ages to get going. 

This is a twelve-team tournament when those that reach the closing stages will play a total of eight matches – one more than anyone plays in a 32 World Cup.

Between March 2021 and March 2022 there is a chance that South American players will have to play 22 games for their national team – effectively half a season on top of an already crowded club campaign, with the added burden of seven or eight double journeys back and forth across the Atlantic.

It would be unfair to pin all the blame for the fixture pile up on international football. The current problem has its roots in the sad fact that no one, at club or international level, wants to give up anything. Someone has to lose.

And since none of the administrators are willing to give up any of their competitions, then the losers are the players – exposed to the virus, exposed to injuries, exposed to burn out.

The way that the 2022 World Cup was switched to December was clearly unsatisfactory.

But for all the problems, there is – or appeared to be – one silver lining.  Playing the tournament in the middle of the club season would, had the pandemic not struck, have meant that Qatar 2022 would have avoided the issue that harmed the quality of all the recent World Cups – players with no gas in the tank trying to force their weary bodies through the decisive stages.

There was much to look forward to in Qatar 2022 – the planet’s best players finally playing a World Cup in something close to their peak physical condition.

This now seems unlikely. The fixture pile up will take its toll. South America’s star names will be clocking up the air miles, and surely running down their own batteries.

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