Australia and Qatar, the two non-South American teams due to take part in this year’s Copa America, have withdrawn from the competition, the secretary general of the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) said on Tuesday.
The two sides were set to join 10 others from South America in the competition, which will be hosted by Argentina and Colombia in June and July.
“Qatar and Australia will not come to play in the Copa America,” Gonzalo Belloso told Argentine radio station Radio Red.
The Qatari FA apologised for the withdrawal, which it said followed the Asian Football Confederation’s “decision to postpone the joint qualifying round for the 2022 World Cup and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup to be held in June 2021, which conflicts with the schedule of matches… in the Copa America”.
As members of the Asian confederation, Australia are also affected by the changes, which are connected to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced confederations to reschedule games.
“The Socceroos’ players and staff were greatly looking forward to the unique opportunity of playing in the Copa America and it is unfortunate that, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we will be unable to attend in 2021,” Australia’s head coach Graham Arnold said.
“On behalf of the team I thank Conmebol for the invitation, which would have presented our team with a fantastic opportunity to test itself against some of the world’s best.”
The Copa America, the oldest tournament in international soccer, was held over from 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and is due to be hosted in two nations for the first time.
The 12 sides were to be split into northern and southern groups, with Qatar playing in the northern section against Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and hosts Colombia.
Australia were in the southern group with Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and hosts Argentina.
A Conmbeol source told Reuters they will look at the possibility of inviting two other teams to replace Australia and Qatar but the tournament will go ahead regardless, with 10 or 12 sides.
“Nothing will change, we will play with 10 if we have to,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
“No matter what happens, it’s the same format, same prize money, everything stays the same.”
The tournament is scheduled to kick off in Buenos Aires on 11 June and end with the final in Barranquilla, Colombia on 10 July.