The group phase of Africa’s World Cup qualifiers that were due to start in June will now begin in September, the Confederation of African Football have confirmed.
CAF said in a statement that the decision was made in conjunction with FIFA “taking into consideration the current disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to ensure optimal playing conditions for all teams.”
The qualifiers were scheduled to begin in early June, having already been postponed from October last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But CAF this week issued a list of approved stadiums for the first two rounds of qualifiers, which left a quarter of the 40 teams competing for places in Qatar 2022 without a venue to play their home matches.
Those affected include Senegal, who competed at the last World Cup in Russia in 2018, and Mali, who were among the top seeded teams for the preliminaries.
Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Niger and Sierra Leone have all also been affected.
There has also been concern over travel restrictions placed on players coming from Europe, many of whom had to sit out March’s final round of qualifiers for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations due to some host countries being on the ‘red lists’ of European nations due to the pandemic.
The shift in calendar means there will now be two rounds of World Cup qualifiers in each of the FIFA international windows in September, October and November this year, essentially concluding the group phase in 11 weeks.
The 10 group winners will then advance to the final playoff stage in March, which is contested on a home and away basis, where the five victors will earn their place in Qatar.
The remaining COSAFA sides in the qualifiers are Zambia (Group B), Mozambique, Malawi (both Group D), Angola (Group F), South Africa, Zimbabwe (both Group G), Namibia (Group H) and Madagascar (Group J).