Asian qualifying matches for the 2022 FIFA World Cup set for this fall will instead be played in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) jointly announced Wednesday the continental qualifying matches, scheduled to take place during FIFA international match windows in October and November this year, will be rescheduled to 2021.
“With the aim of protecting the health and safety of all participants, FIFA and the AFC will continue to work together to closely monitor the situation in the region and to identify new dates for the respective qualifying matches,” the two organizations’ joint statement read.
Asian countries are currently in the second round of the World Cup qualifying campaign, which began in September last year. Following the winter break, the competition was supposed to resume in March, but the COVID-19 outbreaks across the continent forced FIFA and the AFC to reschedule matches for later in the year.
South Korea, trying to qualify for their 10th consecutive World Cup, are in Group H, alongside North Korea, Turkmenistan, Lebanon and Sri Lanka. South Korea have played four matches, while the rest have played five matches each.
In early June, FIFA and the AFC moved South Korea’s matches against Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka on March 26 and March 31 to Oct. 8 and Oct. 13.
The all-Korea showdown was rescheduled from June 4 to Nov. 12, while a South Korea-Lebanon match, set for June 9, was moved to Nov. 17.
FIFA and the AFC both said at the time that those fixtures could change again, depending on how well the virus would be contained in Asia and whether travel restrictions are eased.
There are eight groups of five nations in the second round. The eight group winners and the four-best runners-up will advance to the third round.
South Korea, coached by Paulo Bento, are in second place in Group H with eight points from two wins and two draws. Turkmenistan are leading the way with nine points. Lebanon and North Korea both have eight points each but trail South Korea in goal difference.