Canada News Agency

China's World Cup qualifiers face postponement amid COVID-19 concerns

China's upcoming World Cup qualifier against the Maldives faces being postponed after both FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) issued statement on Thursday, insisting "the well-being and health of all individuals involved in football matches remains the highest priority." 

The fast-spreading COVID-19 is taking a toll on the Asian football calendar, with the AFC Champions League plunged into chaos after postponement and domestic top-flight games suspended in China, Japan and South Korea.  

As the rise of new coronavirus cases shows no signs of abating, China's next qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup, originally scheduled for March 26 and 31, are also under threat. 

AFC General Secretary Dato' Windsor John calls for trust and unity in the face of the deadly virus, saying it's "an unexpected and challenging time", but the AFC is "working tirelessly to monitor the situation, including all sorts of travel restrictions, while continuously communicating with our members, leagues, and clubs."

The world football governing body FIFA added "a formal proposal to postpone upcoming matches in the Asian FIFA World Cup 2022 and the Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers will now be shared with the relevant member associations."

"FIFA and the AFC will provide an update on these fixtures in the coming days following consultation with the AFC member associations." 

According to letters sent to representatives from East Asian and Southeast Asian countries, China's clash with the Maldives is likely to be rescheduled to October 8 and their subsequent game against Guam might take place on October 13.  

Team Dragon's crucial home fixture with the Philippines will possibly be postponed until November 12. Their final qualifier, a potentially decisive encounter with table-topping Syria, is set for November 17.

Concerns over the coronavirus outbreak has led to a widespread fear over travelling, but head coach Li Tie, who oversees China's training sessions in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, urged everyone to remain calm and focused as they ramp up their preparations for World Cup qualifiers. 

"I hope my players will maintain their concentration at all times in the camp and make full use of every training session despite difficulties thrown our way," Li said.  

"It's a sort of situation where everybody needs to level up."

Meanwhile, China's women's team arrived back home from Australia on Friday morning after their Olympic qualification playoff against South Korea, which was scheduled for April 9 and 14 in Sydney, is likely to be further postponed until June.  

A final decision is yet to be made but several Chinese media outlets revealed it remains highly unlikely the playoff will proceed as planned in April.

China's women's team had gotten stuck in Australia amid coronavirus fears since their 1-1 stalemate with the Socceroos in February, which earned them a two-legged tie with South Korea. The winners will seal a place in the Tokyo Olympic Games.