AFC puts health first pushing Asian qualifiers back to June, heading for centralised venues

By Paul Nicholson

February 19 – International travel and quarantine restrictions have pushed the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to reschedule the majority of its March qualifiers for World Cup 2022 and Asian Cup China 2023 qualifiers, with the likelihood of matches being played at centralised venues.

More than 60 matches in the Asian qualifier group stages are still to be played with the AFC saying that four (and potentially two more) will get played in the March window with the rest being moved to June.

To get the matches played it is increasingly looking like centralised venues as being the only valid option to meet qualifying schedules for Qatar 2022, with the UAE and China both having reportedly said they could host.

From the group stages, the top teams then go into two groups of six – another 60 matches – with the top two in each group qualifying for Qatar 2022 and the third placed teams competing for the continental play-off slot. Those matches need to be completed by March 2022.

The fixture crunch looks set to have an impact on what is an increasingly packed 2021 international summer schedule with the Tokyo Olympics, Australia and Qatar committed to play in the Copa America, and Qatar guesting at the Gold Cup in the US, as well in UEFA World Cup qualifying group stages that begin later this year.

The AFC said that it “continues to place the health and safety of players, teams, match officials and all stakeholders as the highest priority…
“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 31 May to June 15, 2021.”

The AFC did confirm that four matches would take place in the March window, and there is a possibility that two or three more may be added.

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