Argentina: No early release for EPL players at WC qualifiers

BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Argentina’s national team expects to keep its Premier League-based players for all three of its upcoming World Cup qualifiers, in defiance of English clubs which recommended they not travel.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said Wednesday he was not aware of any deal to release members of his squad who were initially stopped by their clubs from flying to the region due to COVID-19 restrictions by the British government.

Any Premier League players who go to South America and then return to Britain have to spend 10 days in hotel quarantine and have little chance of training. Brazil, Chile and Paraguay are among the national teams whose England-based players did not come for qualifiers due to the issue.

Argentina had brought Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez and Emiliano Buendia and Tottenham’s Giovanni Lo Celso and Cristian Romero reportedly for just two of the three upcoming matches, but Scaloni denied any such arrangement.

“We gave a list for three matches and there’s no doubt about that. Players are here to play all three,” Scaloni said at a press conference in Caracas before Thursday’s match against Venezuela. “Many said they would not release their players. I want to stress the will of our players to be with the national team. We are thankful for their presence.

“We did not have any refusal from clubs,” the Argentinian coach continued. “As coaching staffers, we have talked to them. We talked and we concluded they had to come. We are happy they are with us.”

Aston Villa said in a statement on Sunday that both of its Argentinian players “have agreed to make themselves available for Argentina’s vital first two World Cup qualifying matches against Venezuela and Brazil, but will not take part in the third international match against Bolivia.”

Argentina’s soccer association never made comments about Villa’s statement.

Tottenham did not comment, but released its South American players to travel. Colombian media reported that defender Davinson Sánchez was allowed to fly as long as he arrives in England in time for a Premier League match against Chelsea. That would leave Sánchez out of Colombia’s game against Chile.

FIFA had granted two additional days for South American countries to play games in both September and October so three qualifiers can be played in each window, rather than the usual two. It also told South American soccer body CONMEBOL there will be consequences for clubs who don’t release players as required, which could mean disciplinary action.

Brazil’s and Chile’s soccer body are contemplating action against English clubs, local media reported. Nine Brazilian players did not come for the international window, including five frequent starters. Two Chileans did not travel.

Brazil coach Tite avoided conflict with English clubs before he departed to Santiago for Thursday’s match against Chile. The Selecao has won all six of its qualifiers, while host Chile lags seventh with six points.

“We have a group of 40, 50 players who are monitored constantly,” the coach said. “These are highly skilled athletes, with a lot of know how, they are all fit to play for Brazil and show their best. And, yes, we are stimulating loyal competition among them.

“I have the utmost respect for athletes based in England,” Tite added. “I can also say that after talking to them I saw all wanted to be here playing for Brazil. Some issues took place for them not to.”

Minutes after Brazil’s coach spoke, he lost two more players from his squad. Midfielder Claudinho and striker Malcom returned to Russia due to pressure from their club Zenit, the Brazilian soccer confederation said in a statement. Both were training with Brazil in Sao Paulo.

“The confederation spoke to the players and explained they could not suffer any sanctions the club threatened them with,” the soccer body said, adding it “expresses its disagreement with Zenit’s move and sent a formal complaint to FIFA” about the incident “so that all punishments applicable to Zenit can be delivered.”


AP Sports Writer Mauricio Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.


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