Copa Libertadores restart in the hands of Argentina and Uruguay

Europe has now completed its Champions League. South America, meanwhile, has yet to get the ball rolling in its equivalent, the Copa Libertadores. Sept. 15 has been set as the date when the action will resume, and this Tuesday evening is a big moment on the route to the restart.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented the South American footballing authorities with challenges even stiffer than those faced by their European counterparts.

For one thing, the South American game lives close to the edge even in the good times. Clubs often have problems meeting their wage bill. The enforced pause, and the lack of revenue from fans inside the stadium, cause enormous hardships.

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Second, almost everywhere in South America competitions follow the calendar year, rather than the August-May European model. The pandemic, of course, struck the game in March, leaving Europe with the problem of how to improvise the end of its competitions. South America, meanwhile, faced a bigger problem; in the Libertadores, only two weeks of group games have been completed. All 32 teams remain in the hunt. It is much harder, then, for South America to come up with the kind of improvised, and very successful, short tournament that UEFA organized in Lisbon.

Most importantly, the virus still has not been brought under control. Of the continent's 10 footballing countries, only five have restarted their domestic leagues, and there have been problems. In Brazil, there have been cases where multiple players have tested positive for the virus. One first division match was called off four minutes prior to kick off for this very reason. Similar situations have arisen in Peru -- where the action was suspended for a few days after fans staged a huge party outside the stadium. There is much less margin for error while the virus death toll continues to rise.

This presents an obvious obstacle to international competition: many borders are closed to foreigners.

CONMEBOL, the South American Confederation, have sought to find a way round this. Firstly, they are contributing to the costs of hiring charter flights to take teams around the continent. Second, they have come up with a detailed protocol, whereby the away team will spend a maximum of 72 hours in the country they are visiting, and precautions are taken in the airport, hotel and stadium to limit their contact with other people.

Eight countries have accepted the CONMEBOL protocol. Argentina and Uruguay are yet to do so, and Tuesday evening has been set as the deadline for the response of their governments.

It is not hard to understand their reluctance. Uruguay, as a nation, has suffered just 42 coronavirus deaths, making many wary of opening up to clubs from countries which have not been so successful. Argentina has the opposite problem. Its strict lockdown was originally very effective, but with a death toll approaching 7,000 the country is living its worst moment since the pandemic struck.

And there is another, purely sporting reason for Argentina to drag its feet: its league has yet to restart. No firm date has yet been set. Its clubs fear that they will be at a physical disadvantage against opponents who have been back in action for a while.

It is likely, though, that the clubs are so desperate for revenue that they will go along with CONMEBOL's plan -- and that their political power will win the day in any battles inside the Argentine government.

So Argentina is expected to come round by Tuesday evening. This is important. Argentina has five teams in this year's Libertadores, and the competition can hardly resume without the likes of River Plate and Boca Juniors.

It is not certain, though, that Uruguay will take the same position. But they only have two teams in the field, and one of them, Penarol, have been sounding out the possibility of staging their home games in southern Brazil if visiting teams are not allowed into their country.

It would appear, then, that the countdown is on to a Sept. 15 resumption of South America's leading club competition. There are as yet no plans to follow Europe's lead and play the closing stages on a quick, tournament basis. The calendar retains the traditional home and away format all the way to a one-off final set for some time in late January. Problems could emerge along the way and improvisations could be needed. But for the next few hours the priority of the footballing authorities is completing the set, ensuring that all 10 nations are ready for a Libertadores resumption in three weeks' time.