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Africa Cup of Nations

Saintfiet wants Afcon qualifiers postponed due to coronavirus

22:03 GMT+3 10/03/2020
Tom Saintfiet Yemen 010913
The outbreak could force the disruption the 2021 qualifiers set for end of March

Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet has called for the postponement of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Italy, the most affected European country, is currently on lockdown with all Serie A matches suspended due to the outbreak.

This has affected the Gambia national team, which has numerous players based in Italy particularly hard.

The Gambian Scorpions are set to play Gabon in a 2021 Afcon qualifier at the end of March.

“We cannot expect to play qualification games when some countries can’t use many of their best players - not because of injuries or personal reasons, but because of an international problem,” Saintfiet told BBC Sport.

“Now we are talking about Italy, but there are also other European countries, like France and even Belgium where coronavirus is increasing a lot.

"We don't know how soon it will go. Maybe in one week's time, there will be parts of France also in quarantine and many African players who play in France will also be having consequences from that.”

While the chances of China-based players fulfilling national duty are slim, Saintfeit wants the March Afcon qualifiers to be postponed to June.

“I think it would be very wise for Caf to follow Fifa's guidelines - what they did in Asia - to postpone the games for March and June,” added Saintfiet.

“Maybe we can postpone only the March games for now - as soon as possible - so that people don't have extra costs, and also have time to plan. We still have dates [available].

“Normally in June, there is only one qualification game, so we could easily play two in June, and two in September, and then the four last Afcon qualifiers would be finished on the same date that they would have finished before.

"So if you look to the health of the public, of African people, of our players and staff members - around travelling, taking risks, importing the virus from Europe, and maybe also having the top players not travel, which could have consequences on the performances of teams, and could be an unfair battle - I think it would be very correct, fair and professional to decide as soon as possible to postpone the games.”

Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in some North African countries, Nigeria and South Africa.