HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s hopes of playing its upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Oman and Australia in front of their fans were dashed after matches were moved to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates due to travel restrictions.
China, which is trying to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since its debut in 2002, has yet to play at home in the final round of Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After negotiations with all parties concerned and confirmation by the AFC, China will play Oman and Australia on November 11 and 16, respectively, in Sharjah,” Xinhua quoted the Chinese Football Association as saying.
“The Chinese team will leave for Sharjah on November 7.”
Li Tai’s team has been forced to play abroad for all of their matches in the current stage of qualifying due to the country’s tight travel restrictions, which severely limit arrivals in China.
The Chinese hosted their match against Japan in Doha in September, losing 1-0 to Hajime Moriyasu’s team, before beating Vietnam 3-2 in Sharjah last month.
Lee’s team had been based in the Middle East since mid-August, but returned to China after the victory over Vietnam and officials were hoping to hold the next qualifying matches at home.
China is fifth in Group B, behind leaders Saudi Arabia by nine points from four matches.
The top two from the group automatically qualify for the World Cup while the third-placed finishers enter a series of playoffs.
(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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