World Cup qualifying revised in Asia again amid pandemic


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Australia’s World Cup qualifying match against Nepal on March 30 has been postponed, leaving only three games to be played in Asia this month as organizers consider central locations to finish the second round by mid-June.

The Asian Football Confederation announced last month that all but four of the region’s remaining second-round qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup had been postponed to May and June.

With AFC’s latest revision on Tuesday, it’s now down to three. Mongolia is set to play Tajikistan on March 25 in Group F before traveling to Tokyo to play Japan on March 30. Saudi Arabia is scheduled to host Palestine in Group D, also on March 30.

The race is now on to finish the round before the June 15 deadline. Most countries have played five of their scheduled eight group games.

The AFC said it has “opened the invitation” to member associations to host their respective groups in a centralized format.

No second-round qualifying matches have been played since November 2019, with multiple postponements caused by travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said his organization wanted to play a “constructive role in the resumption of international football in Asia” and would negotiate with Group B rivals Nepal, Jordan, Kuwait and Taiwan on nominating a central venue.

Australia leads the group after four wins from four matches, two points ahead of Kuwait and Jordan.

The South Korean soccer association last month said it was interested in hosting the remaining matches in Group H and was planning to submit an application to the AFC by March 5. A decision on host venues is expected in mid-March.

The winners of the eight groups, along with the four best-performing second-place teams, will progress to the third round, scheduled to start in September.

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