Copa Libertadores returns but not all clubs are happy

Copa Libertadores returns but not all clubs are happy

South American football's premier club competition kicks off this week after a six-month hiatus caused by the new coronavirus pandemic but the restart has caused complaints and consternation in a region where the sport is not yet fully up and running.

FILE PHOTO: Copa Libertadores 2020 Draw
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Copa Libertadores 2020 Draw - CONMEBOL Headquarters - Luque, Paraguay - December 17, 2019 The trophies of the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana REUTERS/Jorge Adorno

REUTERS: South American football's premier club competition kicks off this week after a six-month hiatus caused by the new coronavirus pandemic but the restart has caused complaints and consternation in a region where the sport is not yet fully up and running.

A total of 32 teams from 10 countries will play matches in the Copa Libertadores on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, even though domestic football is still to restart in three of them, including regional giants Argentina.

"Argentine teams have been called upon to compete at a disadvantage and they are not ready for it," said Nicolas Russo, the president of Lanus and a director of the Argentine Football Association.

The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) is celebrating the return of the continent’s equivalent of the Champions League, and its second-tier competition the Copa Sudamericana, the South American version of the Europa League that will restart on Oct. 27.

But with different nations restarting their domestic programmes at different times -– Brazil restarted in June; Colombia kicked off at the weekend; Argentina won’t begin until at least October - some teams are crying foul.

Racing coach Sebastian Beccacece said Thursday’s opponents Nacional of Uruguay will have played almost a dozen times since restarting, while the home side has not played any games.

"That’s a real and overwhelming advantage," said Beccacece. "We need to trust that we’ll be strong and can appeal to our mental and emotional capacity to try and make up for that initial difference because we will also be without the energy of our fans that are so vital to us. But we have to be ready for the challenge."

REDUCING RISK

All games will take place behind closed doors but with infection rates still high -– more than half of all recorded COVID-19 cases are in the Americas, the World Health Organisation has said -– there is a fear that flying teams of players across the enormous continent risks spreading the virus.

CONMEBOL struck a deal with national governments aimed at reducing risk, with the organisation paying for charter flights and demanding that teams spend no more than 72 hours in foreign nations.

However, hardly a week goes by without a team reporting positive tests for their players.

One league game in Brazil was called off minutes before kick off last month when players tested positive for the virus. The entire league program in Peru was suspended temporarily when fans gathered outside stadiums.

Boca Juniors recently found that 22 of their players, or almost all of the first team squad, tested positive for the virus. The players self-isolated and returned to training last week, a move that further hampered the club’s preparation for their match in Paraguay against Libertad.

CONMEBOL have allowed each team to register 50 players for the competition, up from the usual 30, in a sign that they expect more positive tests to occur.

(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Source: Reuters

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