Kuala Lumpur: Fifa, football’s world governing body, again postponed a majority of the upcoming Asian Qualifiers for the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023.
In a statement released on Saturday, Fifa announced that the joint decision had been taken after considering the existing travel and quarantine restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic across the continent and following a process of close consultation with Asia’s member associations and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
The pandemic has wreaked havoc with the qualifying process around the world with Fifa and AFC forced to postpone the last four matches of Round Two stage from March 2020, first to October and November then to a “suitable date in 2021”. Fifa also moved the inter-confederation play-offs – originally scheduled for March to June 2022.
In November last year, the AFC Competitions Committee announced that all Asian qualifiers’ second round matches would have to be completed by mid-June this year with the first two matches played in March and the last two in June. The third and final round of Asian qualifiers were scheduled to commence in September 2021.
It was also decided that all 10 match days of the Asian qualifiers’ final round would be finished by the end of March 2022 with the Asian and inter-continental play-offs proposed for the FIFA window of May/June 2022.
Exception for few games
However, as per Saturday’s joint decision, a majority of these qualifying matches have been postponed for a later date. Fifa has, however, made an exception to host a handful of games from Match Days 7 and 8 on March 25 and 30, 2021.
Saudi Arabia will play Yemen in Riyadh and Tajikistan will host Mongolia in it’s capital Dushanbe on March 25, while Nepal will host Australia in Kathmandu and Mongolia will play Japan in Chiba on March 30.
Apart from Qatar who have already qualified automatically as hosts, a total of 4.5 slots (four direct slots and one inter-confederation play-off slot) in the final tournament are available for AFC teams.
The qualification process involves four rounds, where the first two rounds double as the qualification for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup scheduled to be held in China. Despite qualifying as hosts, Qatar are participating in these two rounds to seek Asian Cup qualification.
“The AFC continues to place the health and safety of players, teams, match officials and all stakeholders as the highest priority and will work together with its Member Associations to closely monitor the situation in the region,” the statement read.
“As part of efforts to ensure the safe and successful completion of the Asian Qualifiers, the AFC will open the invitation to Member Associations to host their respective groups in a centralised format and will confirm and communicate in due course the match schedule for the June 2021 international window, where the centralised qualifying matches are scheduled to take place from May 31 to June 15, 2021,” the statement added.