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BERN, Sept 8 (Reuters) - The start of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers in the CONCACAF region, comprising North and Central America and the Caribbean, has been put back until March next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, global soccer body FIFA said on Tuesday.
In the latest delay to the qualifying competition for the tournament in Qatar, FIFA said it had jointly decided with CONCACAF that the international dates in October and November were too early for play to start in the current circumstances.
“Many parts of the region continue to have very challenging public health situations, and that has been a key factor in this decision,” said FIFA in a statement.
“Additionally, several countries across the confederation have travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, which would make international football involving 30 national teams extremely difficult.”
The South American qualifiers, which had been due to begin in March this year, will not start until at least next month, while the Asian qualifiers, where the second round is underway, will not restart until March 2021.
The start of qualifying in the small Oceania confederation has also been delayed while Europe and Africa, which have shorter competitions, have not been affected.
The CONCACAF competition was initially due to start in September and the original format has already been changed to adapt to the shorter timetable.
Under the new format, 30 teams will take part in the first round, divided into six groups of five, with teams playing each other once instead of twice.
The six group winners will then take part in three two-leg playoff ties and the winners of those will join the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica and Jamaica in an eight-team final group.
Those teams will play each other home and away with the top three qualifying directly for the finals in Qatar and the fourth-placed team going into an intercontinental playoff for another place at the World Cup.
CONCACAF is now working to finalise a new schedule, FIFA said. (Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)
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