FIFA changes playoff format for last 2 places at World Cup

ZURICH (AP) — FIFA changed the World Cup qualifying format for the intercontinental playoffs on Friday to be single-leg games at a neutral venue.

The winners of the matches will earn the final two spots at next year’s World Cup in Qatar.

FIFA cited “unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic” when scheduling the games for June, more than two months later than the pre-pandemic schedule. Single games also avoid teams crossing several time zones for two-leg matchups.

A host was not announced for the two games, which will be played on June 13 and 14.

The playoffs will involve teams from Asia, South America, Oceania and the North American region. Three of the playoff teams should be known by the end of March. Asia’s entry is scheduled to be decided in a regional playoff only days before the intercontinental playoffs.

Two-legged intercontinental playoffs were introduced for the 1986 World Cup and typically demand long-haul travel.

FIFA will make the World Cup tournament draw on April 1 in Doha. Only 30 of the 32 qualifiers will be known at the time, with the intercontinental playoffs still to come.

The draw for the intercontinental playoffs will be on Nov. 26.

The World Cup is scheduled to start on Nov. 21, with the final on Dec. 18.

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