English clubs get extra week off as World Cup backlog clears

LONDON (AP) — English Premier League clubs will take a week off in January for a new national-team break FIFA created specially to help clear the backlog of World Cup qualifying games outside Europe.

The Premier League published its 2021-22 schedule on Wednesday with no games after the Jan. 22 weekend until resuming with midweek games on Feb. 8.

“This season, the weekend of Saturday, January 29, 2022 forms part of the FIFA international match calendar, and as such, no Premier League matches will take place,” the league said.

The pause is being taken despite European national teams not playing on those dates.

The extra international slot was requested last year by South American soccer body CONMEBOL after several rounds of World Cup qualifiers were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asia’s qualifiers for the 2022 tournament in Qatar also fell behind schedule. The 12 teams remaining will play two games in January and complete the two six-team groups in March.

The CONCACAF region including the United States has three rounds scheduled from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2. The eight-team group ends with three more rounds in March.

European national teams finish their World Cup qualifying groups in November, and a playoff round featuring 12 teams is scheduled in March.

The Premier League break also takes some pressure off teams that must release players for the African Cup of Nations. It is scheduled from Jan. 9-Feb. 6 in Cameroon.

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