FIFA creates new national-team game dates to cut backlog

GENEVA (AP) — FIFA on Tuesday created a new window for national team games in the middle of Europe’s 2021-2022 soccer season to catch up on fixtures that were postponed during the pandemic.

FIFA updated its calendar with fixture slots on Jan. 24-Feb. 1, 2022 for all confederations except UEFA to replace games origionally scheduled next month. European national teams are still set to play twice from Sept. 3-8, before most domestic seasons start, and won’t get the newly created window.

FIFA’s decision could still force a 10-day shutdown for European clubs, which have long pressured the world governing body to limit the number of times they must release players to travel worldwide and risk injury playing for their country.

Top-tier leagues in Europe, which have to skip a weekend program during national-team match windows, have yet to discuss the FIFA move, the European Leagues group said Tuesday.

The request for new FIFA dates came last month from South American soccer body CONMEBOL which has fallen far behind its planned qualifying program for the 2022 World Cup.

FIFA also confirmed that it has created a slot for the African Cup of Nations to be played in January 2022 instead of January next year. That move had already been announced by the Confederation of African football, but the exact dates have yet to be announced. That tournament has traditionally forced European clubs to release African players for several mid-season weeks.

The FIFA calendar dictates when teams around the world have to release players for national-team duty, and European clubs have spent more than a decade trying to decrease those dates.

European leagues must now decide whether to add an extra break during an already congested 2021-22 season. It is due to finish early to help the next season start sooner to accommodate the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Clubs have previously succeeded in getting FIFA to remove slots in February and mid-August typically used for friendly games. They also pressured FIFA to fund insurance for salaries of players injured with national teams, and pay clubs a share of World Cup revenues.

The FIFA calendar now typically includes two-game slots in each of March, September, October and November. In June, there is either another double-header of qualifying games or longer international tournaments.

FIFA needed to make changes after the pandemic shut down soccer worldwide ahead of the March double-header slot.

South America is yet to start its 10-nation qualifying group and postponed the 2020 Copa America by one year. Asia’s World Cup qualifying groups paused in March and also need make-up dates in January. North American region CONCACAF changed its format to an eight-team final group.

European soccer body UEFA postponed its continental championship, Euro 2020, by one year and must still fill the last four places in the 24-team lineup.

UEFA member countries plan to start their next Nations League groups on schedule on Sept. 3, and World Cup qualifying groups next March.

The Euro 2020 playoffs involving 16 teams are to be made up squeezing three games into the FIFA calendar dates in October and November.

However, the longer travel times for Europe-based players returning to home countries elsewhere makes it harder for other soccer continents to schedule more games.


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