This month’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers between The Gambia and Gabon should be postponed as the former cannot access seven key Italy-based players, said Scorpions coach Tom Saintfiet. On Monday, Italy announced that the entire country – which is Europe’s worst affected by coronavirus – was in lockdown as it battles to contain the outbreak. With seven of The Gambia’s players – including defender and captain Omar Colley, who plays for Sampdoria – based with Italian clubs, and thus now inaccessible, Saintfiet says it would be too unfair to play the qualifiers.
Last week, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) said it had no plans to take any immediate action over the continuing spread of coronavirus on the continent but did not rule out ‘matches behind closed doors, postponements or even cancellations’ in the future. “We cannot expect to play qualification games when some countries can’t use many of their best players – not because of injuries or personal reasons, but because of an international problem,” Saintfiet said. “Now we are talking about Italy, but there are also other European countries, like France and even Belgium where coronavirus is increasing a lot. “We don’t know how soon it will go. Maybe in one week’s time, there will be parts of France also in quarantine and many African players who play in France will also be having consequences from that.” The Gambia are due to play in Gabon on 26 March and then at home against the same opposition four days later. The fixtures are part of a series of Nations Cup qualifiers across Africa in the final week of March, with 48 games set to take place in nearly 50 countries. “I think it would be very wise for CAF to follow FIFA’s guidelines – what they did in Asia – to postpone the games for March and June,” said Saintfiet. On Monday, FIFA confirmed that upcoming Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup had been postponed.