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2026 World Cup qualifiers; Eritrea withdraws team



FIFA revealed that Eritrea has pulled out its national men’s team from next week’s World Cup qualifiers, though further details were not given.

Eritrea has been barred from African football competitions in the past due to the fact that players would often flee while abroad, and is considered among the most repressive countries in the world. 

The unranked minnows were expected to meet World Cup history makers, Morocco, in a Group E match on November 16th.

“FIFA and CAF can confirm that the Eritrean National Football Federation has withdrawn from the FIFA World Cup 2026 preliminary competition,” FIFA said in a statement late Friday.

The group will now be contested by the five remaining teams including Zambia, Congo, Tanzania, and Niger.

“All of Eritrea’s matches have been canceled, while the rest of the match schedule for Group E remains unchanged,” FIFA said.

Both Eritrea’s men’s and women’s national football teams are not ranked on FIFA’s standing “due to not having played at least one match during the last 48 months”.

Eritrea’s last international kick of a ball was a friendly match against Sudan in January 2020, which they lost 1-0 at home.

Their most recent competitive games were in 2019 during the regional CECAFA Challenge Cup. Five footballers went missing in Uganda during the 2019 tournament, their fate is unknown to this day.

Eritreans make up one of the world’s largest groups of refugees, fleeing a repressive nation that restricts foreign travel and forces its citizens into indefinite military service.

In 2015 Botswana granted asylum to 10 Eritrean footballers who had refused to return home after a match against the national team.

In 2012, 18 Eritrean players claimed asylum in Uganda after a match there. Another six fled while in Angola in 2007 and 12 more did the same in Kenya in 2009.

The impoverished Horn of Africa nation has been ruled by one man, authoritarian President Isaias Afwerki since its formal declaration of independence in 1993.

It is a “one-man dictatorship” with no legislature, no independent civil society organizations, and no independent judiciary, according to Human Rights Watch.

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