(Adds details about Libertadores postponement)
By Aislinn Laing
SANTIAGO, March 12 (Reuters) - South American qualifying matches for the 2022 Qatar World Cup have been postponed after a request from the region’s football federation amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus, FIFA announced on Thursday.
Soccer’s world governing body said in a letter to the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) that it would seek to reschedule the 10 matches due to take place from March 23 to 31.
The games include Argentina’s opener against Ecuador on March 26 and five-time world champions Brazil’s first game against Bolivia the following day.
A number of Latin America’s top footballers play for European teams in countries that have seen significant cases of the virus and would have faced quarantines on their return to their home countries.
Next week’s matches scheduled for the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of Europe’s elite Champions League club competition, have also been postponed, CONMEBOL said in a statement published on twitter.
Eighteen games were due to take place across the continent between March 15 and 21, CONMEBOL said in a statement.
FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura told her counterpart at CONMEBOL, Jose Astigarraga, that the health and safety of those involved in the World Cup was her primary concern.
“We will continue to work with and consult you and your team to be able to find possible dates in which these matches can be played, something which will require... solutions that take into account the unique and fast-changing nature of this exceptional situation,” she wrote in the letter.
The decision comes three days after FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation agreed to postpone the Asian World Cup qualifying matches in March and June due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Reporting by Javier Leira; writing by Aislinn Laing; additional reporting by Andrew Downie. Editing by Howard Goller/Dan Grebler/Ken Ferris)