How will CONMEBOL fit Copa Libertadores, World Cup qualifying and Copa America into football's coronavirus-hit calendar?

Europe aims to finish its Champions League by the end of August. South America has more time to play with; its season follows the calendar year. Officials there are hopeful that continental club competitions, the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana, can be brought to a conclusion by Dec. 31.

But all of this, almost certainly, will take place without the presence of fans inside stadiums. Argentina's Minister for Sport and Tourism Matias Lammens is a former first-division club president, and he thinks that it is more than likely that all games played this year will be behind closed doors. When the show returns, it will be missing the passionate atmosphere in the stands that is so characteristic of South American football.

Gonzalo Belloso, a director of South American confederation CONMEBOL, inclined to agree.

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"We don't see it as viable to play in front of the public," he says. But Belloso is optimistic of a prompt return. "We believe that if the teams are able to resume training in June, then we can start playing in August. And if we can start in August then we can carry on with the same format. If not, then we have the possibility of changing the format, but the intention is to finish by the end of the year."

The key month, then, has been identified. "We have faith that a restart can happen in August, and then that World Cup qualification (which was to have kicked off in March) can get going in September. If not, then the global calendar becomes very difficult."

At the moment, CONMEBOL are holding an optimistic line, but it is one that will soon be put to the test.

One idea doing the rounds is that FIFA might call off remaining international dates set for this year -- in September, October and November -- with the aim of getting the club game back on its feet. This might help CONMEBOL complete the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana, but it would create a problem with World Cup qualifying.

Since 1996, the continent has used a marathon format, with all 10 countries playing each other home and away. This is popular with most of the nations; it gives them guaranteed income and has helped the less traditional countries to become stronger. But it does require 18 dates. Losing six dates this year (two rounds per month) would make it very difficult to fit in the entire process.

There has been talk of South America reverting to the previous format, where the continent was divided into two or three groups, which requires far fewer dates. At the end of last week, though, a CONMEBOL meeting held via video conference rejected this idea and opted to retain the marathon format.

But will this be possible? Should the six dates of this year be lost, there is a way that they can be made up in 2021 -- play them in June and July, in the space reserved for the Copa America.

There is considerable logic in this position. The 2021 Copa, originally to have been played this year, is an unlovely creature. South America staged a Copa in 2019, and now intends to switch to even years -- which presented the chance of squeezing in an extra competition. Political infighting meant that this next Copa will be split between Argentina and Colombia, at opposite ends of a giant continent, with an unwieldy structure where, in a 12-team tournament, the finalists will play eight matches.

In an emergency, it would make sense to forget the whole idea and use the time to catch up on World Cup qualifying, but the Copa is a money-maker. The 2019 edition helped CONMEBOL to record receipts. And so, for the moment, the organization has announced that the tournament will go ahead as planned.

As it stands, then, CONMEBOL want it all: a complete calendar for its continental club competitions, plus the full 18 rounds of World Cup qualifying plus a Copa America in the middle of next year. It may prove to be an attempt to cram three pints into a bottle that can only hold two.

Fortunately, Belloso seems aware that the wish list may not be fulfilled. "We're looking at scenarios and calendars to see how we can get everything done," he said.

Extraordinary times call for flexible minds.