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The Copa America 2021 is now underway, but two teams that were added to the event – Australia and Qatar, withdrew just before the event kicked off. These two teams were scheduled to take part right the way through until February 2021, when it was announced that the World Cup qualifiers had been changed to create a conflict between the two tournaments. This was a real shame, as it was going to be the first time that both Qatar and Australia had been invited to compete in Copa America – something which would’ve been super exciting to witness! Anyway, when all is said and done, Australia is not competing in this year's Copa America, and we will clear up exactly why this is the case through the following information.
Why did Australia withdraw from Copa America 2021?
Main reasons for the withdrawal
Despite plenty of headlines and excited fans for the first instalment of ‘Copa America Australia’ – it wasn’t to be, and Australia isn’t competing. Of course, usually, the Copa America is played out between teams that are based in South America, but the 2021 event was going to be rather unique with the addition of Qatar and Australia. However, a few months back, Australia and Qatar both withdrew from the event – here are the main reasons why.
Conflict of schedule
The most obvious reason behind the withdrawal is the conflict of schedule between the dates for Copa America and the dates for the World Cup qualifiers. Although the World Cup qualifiers and the AFC Asian Cup (a joint competition) were initially not going to clash with Copa America, the dates have needed to be changed based on how the scope of soccer has been impacted in this part of the world. Since the decision has been made to bring forward the dates for the qualifiers, to a point where they will now be played in June 2021, it simply was not feasible for Australia or Qatar to go and compete in South America. In fact, even if we were in regular times this wouldn’t be possible, never mind in the current climate we find ourselves in.
Therefore, instead of coming to compete in the Copa America event, Australia is playing some rather important matches that could impact their bid to qualify for the main draw of the World Cup. And if we are being completely honest, while looking at things from their point of view, the World Cup would have to take priority – more on this later.
Difficulty of travel
This one goes without saying really, but it’s inevitably a discussion that will have taken place between the Australian team and coaches. As you are probably aware, Australia has some of the strictest travel arrangements around the world, which would make travelling to South America to compete in Copa America both turbulent and somewhat unrealistic in the current circumstances. This is something that is completely separate from the schedule conflicts, but it’s something that would’ve been considered even if the schedule hadn’t worked out in the way it has. Of course, Copa America is usually played between teams that are all based on this continent, so travel for those teams isn’t quite as impossible as it might be for Australia right now.
But before we go onto the next point, we’d like to also point out that once things are back to normal, we firmly expect that a Copa America Australia campaign will be something that we all get to witness. After all, travel will eventually become the norm once again, and high-level sport such as what we can expect in Copa America will become something that fans are treated to without unwanted interruptions to the schedule.
Priority for the team
Again, this one does not supersede the initial schedule conflict which is the main reason behind Australia’s withdrawal from Copa America but should something like this arise again in the future, this would likely be a big issue. With that said, Australia will have likely thought about this one too, before even applying any pressure to the organizers of the World Cup qualifiers to change the dates in order to allow Australia to compete in both. At the end of the day, the World Cup is a much bigger tournament and a much bigger priority for most teams, even if Copa America isn’t exactly a small event!
How does this withdrawal change the tournament?
With the inclusion of Qatar and Australia in this year's Copa America, this would mean that the tournament would be played out with 12 teams. This would actually be the first time in history that the event would include 12 teams, with two of them coming from the Eastern Hemisphere. Then again, there have been a lot of ‘firsts’ over the last 18 months in the soccer world. As it happens, it’s also the first time that Copa America was scheduled to be played in two host nations – both Brazil and Argentina. Anyway, while history was going to be made by both Qatar and Australia coming to compete, it wasn’t meant to be, which naturally changes the initial plan for the tournament.
In terms of the concrete changes, the initial plan was to invite two other teams to come and play in order to fill up the 12 spaces for the competition. However, since the withdrawal wasn’t confirmed until February 2021, this meant that it was a little late for the organizers to get everything together to accommodate two other teams. So, rather than Copa America including 12 teams this year, as it usually goes, there are two groups of 5 teams, meaning that there are just 10 teams competing for the trophy this year.
With this said, we actually find it quite cool that for the first time ever, Copa America will purely be contested by teams from this continent. Sure, it’s not great for Australian soccer fans, as Copa America was going to be a truly exciting event to watch, and it would be something completely different from what they are used to.
Can we expect Australia to compete in the future?
To be honest, we are quite hopeful that Australia could well be playing in Copa America in the future. Now that the ‘Socceroos’ have really started to raise their level of play, we feel that they wouldn’t be outplayed or overwhelmed by teams like Columbia, Brazil, Argentina, or any other of the South American heavyweights going forward. It might be a far cry to say that Australia would have a chance to win the tournament, but you can never say never in the world of sport, especially soccer! So to conclude, this will be a space that we watch closely, and as announcements start to be made for the next Copa America, we are sure that the involvement of Australia and Qatar will be quite a hot topic.
But for now, all eyes will be on the World Cup qualifiers for Australia, and we are pretty pumped to watch them compete!