COVID-19 chaos awaits Messi and Neymar in South America’s World Cup qualifiers


Rio de Janeiro/Buenos Aires, Oct. 7, 2020 (dpa/Naija247news) South America needs only to look at its club league competitions to see what might happen when FIFA World Cup qualifying starts this week in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rio de Janeiro club side Flamengo spent eight days in Ecuador, played two games in the Copa Libertadores and then returned home with more than 15 infected players.

Flamengo then went to court to try to avoid playing their next game in the Brazilian championship.

It was not without a certain irony.

The Brazilian champions and Copa Libertadores winners were one of the clubs which had pushed hardest for the return of football in Brazil during the pandemic.

Boca Juniors from Buenos Aires also registered more than a dozen infected players — even before September’s resumption of the Copa Libertadores.

The competition also marked the return of football in Argentina, where professional leagues have been on hiatus since March.

In spite of the chaos, South America is going ahead with the start of its 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying Competition on Thursday, Friday and next week Tuesday.

“Everything is new and different,” said Juninho Paulista, coordinator at the Brazilian Football Federation.

“There were a thousand things to think about before, and now with the health crisis there are many more. This means an adjustment in everything. It’s not nice to play like this.”

The world footballers’ union Fifpro has warned of the travel risk for around 250 players.

These include world stars such as Argentina’s Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona), Brazil’s Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Colombia’s James Rodriguez (Everton) and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez (Atletico Madrid).

Parts of Europe are also being badly hit by a second wave of COVID-19.

But clubsides are not best pleased about their players having to fly to South America at this difficult time.

After the U.S. and India, Brazil has the highest number of coronavirus infections worldwide (over 4.9 million).

Brazil welcome Bolivia for in Sao Paulo on Friday.

In terms of population, Peru is the worst country in the world for COVID-19 deaths.

Brazil travel to Lima on Tuesday.

In September, 89.99 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants were registered in Peru.

The borders are still closed and there is a night curfew, meaning a change to the kick-off time.

The Brazil team are not getting time off between the two matches to try to make sure the squad stay in a bio-secure environment.

Masks are a must away from the pitch and players will stay in single rooms and do weight training only in small groups.

Argentina first face Ecuador in Buenos Aires on Thursday and then head to Bolivia in their opening two matches of the round-robin format.

Messi chartered a plane from Spain for himself and other Argentina teammates based in Europe such as Paulo Dybala (Juventus) and Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica).

That may help limit their contact with others initially but once in South America, it could be a different story.

September’s resumption of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of Europe’s Champions League, showed that some health protocols employed in Latin America are ineffective when it comes to controlling the virus.

The Argentinians are therefore enforcing the same protocols as Brazil to try to limit exposure.

The squad and coaching staff are staying at the Football Association’s premises near Buenos Aires airport and are not allowed to leave the grounds.

Argentina’s Eduardo Salvio said: “We must continue to get used to the safety protocols which have already been implemented at our clubs and work hard to progress in qualifying.”

But concentrating on the football will be difficult.

Ecuador goalkeeper Johan Padilla has already tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of Thursday’s game.