World Cup: Senegal, Mali, others risk playing homes matches on neutral grounds

There are indications that no fewer than 10 countries jostling to play at next year’s FIFA World Cup risk playing their home matches in neutral grounds when the qualifiers restarts.

This is because the continental football governing body, the CAF has slammed a ban on several stadia across the continent as not meeting some set criteria ahead of the September date for the restart of the qualifiers.

Although 40 countries are scheduled to take part in the qualifying campaign, the ten countries risk facing the prospect of ‘hosting’ matches outside their borders.

Those affected include Senegal, who competed at the last World Cup in Russia in 2018, and Mali, who were among the top seeded teams for the preliminaries.

Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Niger and Sierra Leone have all not had their home stadiums approved as Caf cracks down on poor infrastructure around the continent.

They now face a tight deadline to upgrade venues before the first set of matches begin on 5 June or they will have to host them elsewhere.

Senegal open their Group H campaign at home to Togo in the first week of June, but their iconic Leopold Senghor Stadium is closed for renovations and alternate venues used for recent internationals declared unfit by Caf.

DR Congo, Libya and Uganda have had their main stadiums rejected but will still be able to play at home at smaller, alternate venues.

The group phase of Africa’s World Cup preliminaries has the 40 countries divided into 10 groups of four. They will play six matches each through until October.

In November, the group winners will pair off into five playoff ties with the aggregate victors qualifying for the finals in Qatar next year.

African football has long been blighted by poor stadium facilities and sub-standard pitches and Caf have steadily shown more resolve in banning venues.

But in March, a similar ban on several stadia across the continent for the last round of Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers was lifted at the last minute. Caf gave no explanation for the change of heart.

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