• Copa America trophy, Graham Arnold (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
In an alternate universe, the third round of qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup would now be almost done and Australia would be close to clinching a place in Qatar.
By
John Duerden

Source:
SBS The World Game
2 Jun 2021 - 3:20 PM  UPDATED 2 Jun 2021 - 4:35 PM

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Some of the youngsters who impressed at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would have moved to the next level and become crucial parts of the Socceroo set up.

And the trip to South America for the 2020 Copa America, with joints hosts - Colombia and Argentina - for the first time in its long history, would have been a successful one. 

In February, Australia withdrew from the tournament, which like the Olympics and second round of World Cup qualification was rescheduled as it  became apparent that there was just no room to fit everything in. Something had to give.  

Playing in South America’s tournament would have been a fantastic experience for the Socceroos with games against Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile as well as co-hosts Argentina. 

It was not to be and it was the right decision to pull out.

Now it looks even better considering what has been happening in South America in recent weeks. Australia is better off out of it. 

First, Colombia pulled out of co-hosting duties last month.

There had been growing protests in the country against the government that had resulted in the deaths of 42 people.

Some of the demonstrations had disrupted games at the Copa Libertadores, the continent’s Champions League. Colombia asked CONMEBOL to postpone until November, the request was denied.

"For reasons related to the international calendar of competitions and the logistics of the tournament, it is impossible to transfer the Copa América 2021 to the month of November," the confederation said in a statement. 

Argentina offered to host the whole tournament but with the COVID-19 situation becoming more serious, the offer did not seem realistic.

Indeed, on May 31, the country was stripped of its duties by the confederation, just 13 days before it was all due to kick off. 

"CONMEBOL is analysing offers from other countries that have shown interest in hosting the continental tournament," it said in a short statement.

"Updates will be announced soon." No reason was given but it was clear that it was down to coronavirus. 

There were reports of an attempt to move the whole tournament to the United States but there were just too many hurdles and not enough time.  

Instead, it was moved to Brazil on Monday. "The CONMEBOL Copa America 2021 will be played in Brazil! Tournament start and end dates are confirmed,” the organisation said in a statement.

"The venues and the fixture list will be informed by CONMEBOL in the next few hours. The oldest national team tournament in the world will thrill the entire continent!" 

With over 460,000 people dying due to COVID in Brazil, the reaction in South America’s biggest country didn’t seem so thrilled. Instead there was plenty of disbelief and anger as to why Brazil was hosting an international tournament with the current health situation so bad. 

Senator Otto Alencar issued a plea to Brazil’s star player. "Neymar, I want to tell you something,” he said: “You shouldn't agree with the holding of this cup in Brazil! Don't agree to this. It is not this championship that we need to now compete in. We need to compete in the vaccination championship," he said.

President Jair Bolsonaro disagreed.

"As far as it is up to me, and all the ministers, including the health minister, it is all decided,"  Bolsonaro said.

"From the beginning I have said about the pandemic: I regret the deaths, but we have to live," he added. 

Initially, the country’s cities did not seem so interested in getting involved either. Initially, only the capital Brasilia stepped forward, to be joined on Tuesday by Rio, Cuiaba and Goiabia, 

For Australia, missing out on the Copa America is a source of regret but there will be other opportunities.

With all the uncertainty around the tournament at the moment, it has become a football, public and political mess that the Socceroos are best out of.