The Philippine Azkals will play their Group A matches in the joint qualifiers of the World Cup and Asian Cup in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates instead of Suzhou, China.
The Asian Football Confederation confirmed the change of venue Tuesday, June 1 after Maldives and Syria were prevented entry in China due to COVID-19 infections.
Even the Azkals were dealt with a less-severe situation after China barred two officials who tested positive for the coronavirus but possibly due to being vaccinated recently, and two more who despite having negative results had a prior history of infection.
“These are indeed unprecedented times for everyone, and, on behalf of the AFC, I would like to thank the UAE FA for agreeing to host the Group A matches of the Asian Qualifier,” said AFC General Secretary Windsor John.
“The UAE FA’s commitment to host the matches within such a short lead time is testament to their spirit of understanding and organizational excellence, and we are confident that they will provide the best possible environment for our teams and players.
“The AFC outlined its desire to ensure the safe and successful resumption of the Asian Qualifiers and we are determined to deliver on our plans, keeping in mind the highest health protocols, for the benefit of all our participating teams, players, fans and key stakeholders,” he added.
The Azkals will play China on June 7, Guam on June 11 and Maldives on June 15 at the Sharjah Stadium.
Azkals team manager Dan Palami said the national squad, which trained the past week in Doha, was advised at the last minute to board a flight bound for Shanghai due to the situation.
“We would have been left severely shorthanded in China if the games pushed through there,” Palami said, referring to the barring of the four officials stressing that “every member of the delegation plays an important role.”
The Group A qualifiers actually resumed last Saturday with China rolling to a 7-0 romp of Guam before 30,000 fans at the Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre.
But the Chinese Football Association said Monday, May 31 that the remaining seven matches in Group A will have to be played elsewhere upon recommendation of the AFC.
The UAE city logistically favors the Azkals since they’ll be in Doha until the schedules are set while Maldives and Syria are training in Dubai.
“In view of the recent epidemic infections in the Maldives and Syrian national football teams… they must be strictly quarantined upon entry and cannot participate in the games as scheduled,” the CFA said, as quoted by stories made by wire services.