Asian 2022 World Cup Qualifiers Face Venue Switch to Qatar
In what has become an all too familiar scene during the 2020/21 COVID-19 pandemic, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) teams Australia and China are losing their home advantage in September's upcoming 2022 World Cup qualifiers due to covid-travel restrictions. Both national teams have been forced to source a neutral venue for their third-round qualifying home matches. The venue switch comes after the Chinese and Australian governments denied overseas players covid-quarantine and travel bubble exemptions ahead of the forthcoming fixtures. Fortunately, FIFA 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar can provide the facilities, amenities, and appropriate exemptions to ensure the qualifying games are played as scheduled.
The Asian 2022 World Cup Qualifiers
The Asian 2022 World Cup qualifiers are entering the competition's third and final round, and only twelve teams from an original forty-six remain. Australia, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates (winners of their Round Two groups), China, Iraq, Lebanon, Oman and Vietnam (best runners-up from Round Two) will all participate in the final qualifying round. During which, the four winning teams advancing to the World Cup will be determined, as will the two teams who will fight for their place at the inter-confederation playoffs in June 2022 for one last chance at qualifying.
The third round of the qualifying competition sees the final twelve teams divided into two groups of six (Groups A and B). The tournament will consist of group round-robin matches in a home-and-away format. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the World Cup, and the two third-placed teams will advance to a fourth round. The fourth round, home-and-away games over two legs, will decide which team proceeds to the inter-confederation playoffs.
In Group A, Iran, Iraq, Korea Republic, Lebanon, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been drawn together.
In Group B, Australia, China, Japan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam will face off against one another.
The Third Round will begin on September 2nd with the clash between Australia and China and run until March 2022.
As hosts of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar automatically qualifies for the tournament.
Venue Switch - Australia
Australia, one of only two teams in Round Two of the Asian qualifiers to maintain a perfect record of eight wins and already tipped to win one of the top two spots in their group, will have been hoping to play out the opening match of the qualifiers at home as scheduled. The Socceroos desire to play at home will have been for more than the home advantage - though that would have been an obvious edge to their game. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Socceroos last played a fixture in Australia nearly two years ago. Fans and players alike will have been rooting for a game on home soil. However, the game, which should have taken place in Sydney's Bankwest Stadium, looks more likely to be held in Qatar.
Football Australia has, of course, canvassed both the federal and state governments of Australia for exemptions. But, the association has, so far, been unable to secure exceptions for either the Socceroos overseas-based players, the Chinese teams squad and staff, or attending officials. And, while the AFC have yet to confirm the venue switch, the match is listed as being held in Qatar's Suheim Bin Hamad Stadium - also known as the Qatar Sports Club Stadium. The game is scheduled to kick off at 03:00 (local time) on Thursday, September 2nd.
Venue Switch - China
The Chinese team is no stranger to swapping venues during the 2022 World Cup qualifying tournament. China was initially set to host their Round Two group matches. However, due to strict travel and quarantine restrictions imposed by the Chinese government, all but one game was played out in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Once again, in Round Three, coach Li Tie's side will be forced to give up their advantage and play their home match against Japan on September 7th in a yet-to-be-determined stadium in Doha.
The Chinese squad will be disappointed to lose the home advantage. Though they did well in the Second Round of qualifiers, beating their nearest group rivals Syria in a last game bid to secure their place in Round Three, they are up against some tough opponents in their group - Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Even a small advantage would have been welcome up against Asia’s top dogs.
Though it seems unlikely given the tumultuous year for both Chinese and Australian football in terms of the coronavirus pandemic, both China and Australia will be hoping to host their home games at home during the October and November windows. However, if the pandemic continues to make travel difficult for players, staff and officials, at least both teams can rest assured that Qatar can be called upon again to assist. The host nation for the upcoming World Cup has had plenty of experience hosting football events and tournaments over the COVID-19 epidemic. The country has successfully hosted the 2020 FIFA Club World Cup, the 2020 Asian Champions League, the 2021 Arab Cup qualifiers, and their group for the second round for 2022 World Cup qualifiers in the last year. Qatar employed stringent health and safety measures at all associated venues and facilities and extensive COVID-19 testing to ensure the success of each tournament and the well-being and safety of all those involved. As host of the up-and-coming World Cup, the Arab nation also has the perfect infrastructure to accommodate as a neutral venue in terms of stadiums, training facilities and accommodation.
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