The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has decided to move its joint Asian Qualifier matches for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup to a “neutral venue” on Monday, May 31, due to “mounting challenges” with host China.
With the original June 3 kickoff date now scrapped, the AFC said in a statement that a neutral venue “will be decided and announced in the coming days.”
In a separate statement, the Azkals national football team said they are staying in their Doha, Qatar training bubble following the barring of four team officials from entering China and the subsequent AFC pullout and postponement.
While two national team officials indeed tested positive for the coronavirus, the other two who tested negative were reportedly still barred simply due to their previous history of testing positive for the virus in 2020.
“We would have been left severely shorthanded in China if the games pushed through there,” said team manager Dan Palami, who noted that “every member of the delegation plays an important role.”
He then added in the statement that the team “will explore every possibility to further strengthen the squad that we have now,” and that health and safety still remain a priority.
This Azkals’ travel issue may likely be one of the “mounting challenges faced by several participating teams in traveling to China” broadly addressed by the AFC in its own statement Monday afternoon.
However, despite logistical conflicts, the AFC is still working with the Chinese Football Federation “to arrange for the safe passage and well-being of all stakeholders while reiterating commitment towards ensuring the successful completion of the Asian Qualifiers.”
Although the new venue and schedule have yet to be released, the AFC is aiming to complete all matches by June 15, “as originally planned.” – Rappler.com