The Socceroos have pulled out of this year’s Copa America due to a clash with their 2022 World Cup qualifying schedule.
Australia were set to make their debut at the continental tournament, which will be hosted by Argentina and Colombia in June and July, as one of two guest nations along with Qatar.
However, significant changes to the Socceroos’ road to Qatar 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic have forced Football Australia’s hand, with the Asian Football Confederation moving forward some international dates.
The Socceroos’ next World Cup qualifier is set to be away to Nepal on March 30 before their second-round campaign continues in June – with Australia tipped to host the remaining three matches involving Graham Arnold’s men on home soil.
Football Australia CEO James Johnson expressed his regret that the Socceroos won’t feature at the 47th edition of the CONMEBOL showpiece – a tournament that the team were invited to in 2019.
“It is with great disappointment that Australia cannot feature at the Copa America in 2021,” Johnson said in a Football Australia statement.
“Regrettably, the international football calendar, including our FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification schedule, has been significantly disrupted over the past 12 months by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“On behalf of the Australian football community, I would like to thank CONMEBOL for their warm invitation to the tournament, as well as their continued dialogue regarding our participation over the past year.
“We would also like to thank AFC and FIFA which supported our invitation to the tournament.”
Socceroos coach Arnold, who previously said Australia would have to knock back the Copa invitation if it clashes with World Cup qualification matches, echoed Johnson’s sentiments.
“The Socceroos’ players and staff were greatly looking forward to the unique opportunity of playing in the Copa America and it is unfortunate that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be unable to attend in 2021,” Arnold said.
“On behalf of the team I thank CONMEBOL for the invitation, which would have presented our team with a fantastic opportunity to test itself against some of the world’s best.”
The Copa America, the oldest tournament in international soccer, was postponed in 2020 due to coronavirus and is due to be hosted in two nations for the first time.
With the Socceroos and Qatar unable to be involved at this year’s event, CONMEBOL spokesman Ariel Ramirez said other national teams had already expressed interest in replacing them.
“There is a calendar issue that stopped Australia and Qatar, but we have already seen interest from other national teams to play as guests in their place,“ Ramirez told Associated Press.
“We would like to have 12 teams.”
Although he added that the Copa America would be played with the usual 10 teams if required.
The tournament is scheduled to kick off in Buenos Aires, Argentina on June 11 and end with the final in Barranquilla, Colombia on July 10.