The CONMEBOL section of the World Cup 2018 qualifiers has thrown up a spanner in the works for some teams in the Premier League.
The CONMEBOL table, which covers those teams in the South American Football Confederation, is going down to the wire, with seven teams still vying for three automatic qualification spots in next year’s World Cup in Russia.
Table toppers Brazil have already guaranteed their Russia berth, which makes the fifth ‘play-off’ spot in the table crucial to the likes of Argentina and Chile. For the team that finishes fifth, a showdown with New Zealand awaits in order to determine who joins the top four finishers.
This two-legged play off with New Zealand throws up a scheduling issue, however.
The first leg is set to be played on November 6, with the return leg taking place on the 14th. The second leg ties in with that international break period, but due to the prolonged travel and recovery required for such a round trip, the dates of the play-offs are further apart than usual.
This, along with FIFA’s rules stating that players must be released four days before a World Cup qualifier, means that the likes of Alexis Sanchez or Sergio Aguero could miss out on the November 4-5 Premier League weekend. That weekend sees a crucial clash between both players’ clubs, as Manchester City host Arsenal.
If Argentina finish fifth, City will also have Nicolas Otamendi absent from the squad, whereas if Chile are successful, only Claudio Bravo will be unavailable.
A Colombia play-off would deprive Arsenal of David Ospina’s services, while Chile would definitely take Alexis Sanchez on board should they need him.
Another back-up goalkeeper in Sergio Romero of Manchester United may make up part of the Argies’ squad, while captain Antonio Valencia would take part if Ecuador pulled off an unlikely rise to fifth. That November weekend also sees Chelsea host Manchester United.