European clubs were handed a boost when they were allowed to delay the release of players to African Cup of Nations squads until the week the tournament begins after a request from domestic leagues was accepted by the Confederation of African Football.
FIFA regulations had mandated players be released this Monday, extending the time they would be missing from games in European competitions like the Premier League that play across the Christmas and New Year period and throughout the African Cup.
Clubs can now keep players for matches until January 3. The 24-nation African Cup opens on Jan. 9 at the Olembe Stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon, with the final on Feb. 6.
Premier League clubs will have African Cup-bound players available for two additional matches. The final game now before releasing players sees a clash of title chasers on Jan. 2 with Liverpool — with Mohamed Salah (Egypt), Naby Keita (Guinea) and Sadio Mané (Senegal) in the squad — playing away at Chelsea which has Edouard Mendy (Senegal) in goal. Premier League leader Manchester City will be losing Riyad Mahrez, its top scorer with 12 goals in all competitions, to Algeria’s title defense.
Europe would prefer the African Cup of Nations was played in its summer when other continental championships like the Euros are held to avoid disrupting the domestic leagues.
Despite the tone of European resistance to the tournament in recent correspondence, FIFA deputy secretary general Mattias Grafström on Saturday confirmed the easing of player release timings as a “commitment of solidarity” to organizations including the World Leagues Forum, European Leagues and European Club Association in a letter seen by The Associated Press.
“CAF has decided that for those players who have official club matches between the 27 December 2021 and 3 January 2022, the participating member associations in question are to be directed that these players may remain with their clubs to participate in these matches and be released after the last match during this period,” Grafström wrote.
The World Leagues Forum called the earlier requirement for players to go on international duty “unreasonable and disproportionate for many clubs and players who are still playing at that time” but CAF and FIFA have shown a willingness to respond to those concerns.
“It has been highlighted to FIFA that this decision is taken in the spirit of goodwill and solidarity with the affected clubs in recognition of the fact that they, like all members of the football community, have been adversely affected by the onset of the COVID pandemic,” Grafström wrote.
“It is also assumed that a spirit of mutual cooperation remain between CAF and all relevant stakeholders in this regard, including related to the release of players and the provision of sporting exemptions to travel and quarantine restrictions if required in the future.”
African nations have been frustrated during the pandemic when countries have imposed quarantine requirements on return that prevent players featuring for their countries without missing club matches.
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