By Paul Nicholson
June 5 – The Iraq Football Association, under the control of a FIFA normalisation committee, has called an end to the current Iraqi Premier League season, saying that it needed “preserve the readiness” of national team players for the World Cup qualifiers.
Iraq currently tops its group in the second round of 2022 World Cup qualification with 11 points, followed by Bahrain on 9 points and Iran, who have a game in hand, on 6 points. Iraq has three games to play and will be expected to beat Hong Kong and Cambodia, with their crunch game coming against Iran.
Only group winners are guaranteed entry to the final stages of World Cup qualification, with the top 12 going through to play off in two groups of six – each team playing each other in their group home and away. The top two in each of these groups qualify for Qatar 2022 with the third placed team playing off for a further chance to qualify for Qatar 2022 against a challenger from another confederation (most likely Concacaf).
Iraq’s normalisation committee said the decision to end the league with immediate effect was motivated by the need to “preserve the readiness of the national team players who have to be prepared for the resumption of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers.”
But quite when they will be able to play these qualification games is unknown.
The AFC had been hoping that the international games can be squeezed in before Christmas with FIFA potentially adding extra international dates in December. However, with national teams by then not having played competitively for almost a year, there is a reluctance to make an new international windows competition dates with a preference towards allowing teams to play friendlies to prepare for the serious business of the qualifiers.
The qualifiers look most likely to have to shift to new and yet to be specified FIFA international match dates in January 2021. And all of this assumes that international borders and quarantine restriction are relaxed enough to enable teams to travel and play.
There is further calendar pressure with domestic leagues across Asia reactivating. Confederations have generally been cognisant of the need for member federations to get their home leagues moving again and reactivate local football infrastructures.
For the Iraqis, the normalisation committee have decided to stage a top tier tournament to start the new league season. A tournament they are describing as a “refresher”. The new season itself is provisionally scheduled for a September 7 start.
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