By Paul Nicholson
June 8 – Having been the first of the Confederations to lockdown football in their region as the coronavirus pandemic spread, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is slowly starting to open up, setting dates for a resumption of competition for its 2022 World Cup qualifiers as well as scheduling draws for age group competitions scheduled to take place this year.
The AFC today announced that it will hold the final draws for the U-16 finals tournament to be held in Bahrain, and the U-19 finals tournament to be held in Uzbekistan, on June 18.
Both finals tournaments have been scheduled for this year but the actual dates – most likely to be after September – have still to be decided. The draw will see the last 16 teams in each competition drawn into four groups of four, and will be conducted over video link.
At the end of last week the AFC released ‘proposed’ match dates for the remaining matches of Round 2 in the World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Asian Qualifiers. Currently at group stage, teams still have three games to complete.
Matchdays 7 and 8 were originally scheduled to take place in March and June 2020 but are now scheduled to take place on October 8 and 13. Matchdays 9 and 10 are due to kick off on November 12 and 17, 2020. This will close off the first group stage before the end of the year and give the opportunity to start the final World Cup qualifying round in Asia by the March 2021 match dates in the FIFA International Calendar.
In the current group stages, only group winners are guaranteed entry to the final stages of AFC 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 from each of these groups of six qualify for Qatar 2022 with the third placed teams playing off for a further chance to qualify for Qatar 2022 against a challenger from another confederation (most likely Concacaf).
The top 12 teams in final World Cup qualifying automatically qualify for the Asian Cup China 2023, while the remaining teams from the current group stages will battle out for the remaining 12 slots.
The AFC caveated the new dates saying it “will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all teams, officials, fans and stakeholders as well as Government travel and medical restrictions and will notify all parties should there be a need to reassess the match schedules due to the ever-evolving impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
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