Asian World Cup qualifiers to be moved from China to UAE

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — China’s COVID-19 travel restrictions have forced World Cup qualifying matches scheduled for the eastern city of Suzhou to be relocated to the United Arab Emirates.

The Chinese Football Association issued a statement Monday saying the outbreak of infections in the Maldives and Syria meant both national teams would have to undergo strict quarantine after arriving in China, and couldn’t play as scheduled.

The Asian Football Confederation confirmed in a statement Tuesday that the qualifying matches would be moved from China to the UAE.

“The remaining seven matches in Group A, which comprises leaders Syria, China, Philippines, Maldives and Guam, will be held at the Sharjah Stadium, with the proposed match schedule to be confirmed soon after discussions with the participating teams, taking into consideration their arrival schedules to the UAE,” the AFC said.

On Monday, the Chinese federation said the pandemic forced the move.

“The decision was made due to the mounting challenges faced by several participating teams in traveling to China . . . The AFC is now working in close partnership with the Chinese Football Association and potential neutral venues, as well as the participating teams to arrange for the safe passage and well-being of all stakeholders while reiterating its commitment towards ensuring the successful completion of the Asian qualifiers.

Maldives and Syria were scheduled to play Group A games in Suzhou in the second round of Asian qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

“Under the suggestion of the Asian Football Confederation, the CFA agreed to move the remaining Group A matches of the FIFA 2022 World Cup Asian qualifiers to Dubai,” the CFA statement said.

Syria leads the five-team group with 15 points from five straight wins. China moved into second spot on 10 points after a 7-0 win over last-place Guam on Sunday. Maldives is in fourth place with six points. The top team in each group will advance to the third round of Asian qualifying.

The second round of Asian qualifying has been severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The remaining games in most of the eight groups are to be contested in hubs. Some teams will be playing their first international matches in 18 months this week.

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