Africa’s second qualifying round for the 2022 World Cup is set to begin with a few notable absentees – Mohamed Salah, among them – after British clubs refused to release players for various matches.
Premier League clubs have led the way in denying players permission to travel to countries on the UK government’s Covid red list, which would require 10 days of quarantine upon their return.
With Egypt being one of 17 African countries on the red list, Liverpool superstar Salah will miss this week’s home game against Angola in Cairo but could play in Gabon, which is not on the list. next week.
The quarantine conditions meant he could have been one of many internationals to miss multiple games, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said.
“As clubs, we can’t do that – not only because we’re playing games around this time, but because without being positive (for the coronavirus) they lose 10 days of training,” he said. -he declares.
“Without a chance to move, you lose muscle. It’s a real risk for boys if they then have to play three, four or five days after 10 days of quarantine.”
Given that they play in countries not on the red list, Salah’s club colleagues Sadio Mane and Naby Keita can represent Senegal and Guinea respectively in the two matches of this window, which start on Wednesday and end Tuesday.
The Liverpool cases highlight the additional selection issues facing the coaches as the 40 teams, split into ten groups of four, battle to reach the March qualifiers.
Only the ten group winners will qualify for the round-trip play-offs, after which the five African finalists for Qatar 2022 will be known.
This adds further intrigue to Group D, where the 2017 African champions Cameroon face off against the 2015 winners CÃ´te d’Ivoire in a battle of teams that have ten World Cup matches between them.
This is one of the four groups comprising more than one experienced team in the World Cup, with group F (Egypt, Angola), group G (South Africa, Ghana) and group H (Senegal, Togo).
With the strengths of the teams likely to be influenced by the complications of Covid for some time, the campaign has the capacity to deliver surprising results.
An example of the challenges can be seen by the issues facing Nigerian manager Gernot Rohr, who has appointed an expanded squad of 30 to accommodate players not allowed to leave the UK.
With the Super Eagles full at home against Liberia later this week, they will be missing eight UK-based players – with Leicester duo Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi – for the ensuing trip to Cape Verde, who is on the red list.
CÃ´te d’Ivoire coach Patrice Beaumelle has already lost patience with a process that both African Football Confederation and FIFA tried unsuccessfully to overturn appeals to the British government.
The 2015 African champions welcome Cameroon, who took their throne in 2017, in a tantalizing Group D clash, after which they can use Premier League duo Eric Bailly and Serge Aurier – but the two cannot play the Mozambique, on the red list, in the Elephants’ first match. .
“I’m tired of this whole thing and think it’s pointless as everything is well organized these days with regular testing, safe travel and closed stadiums to minimize the risk,” the coach told Reuters Ivorian Patrice Beaumelle.
“We have been under constant pressure from the clubs not to select their players. In March, it was the French clubs who refused and now it is the English.”
While many coaches have to develop new formations in the face of such issues, others have to make their way through some regional derbies, with South Africa facing Zimbabwe (Group G) while Malawi meeting Mozambique ( group D).
Coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredrejovic faces Kenya in Group E as they face their first competitive game since joining Cranes, which they led to a first Africa Cup final. nations in four decades in 2017, early August.
“We expect a good game of football friends who will be opponents for 90 minutes, but after 90 minutes we will be East African brothers,” he said.
“There are too many stakes and it’s very difficult to play against friends that you know. It’s a test of character for a team in transition, and it will be a very difficult game that will show us where we are. currently. ”
All 40 teams including Africa champion Algeria hope to improve from Africa’s poor 2018 World Cup except Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal or Tunisia. reached the second round.
This meant that there was no African team in the next stage for the first time since 1982.