Asia's World Cup qualifiers set to be postponed until June

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HONG KONG, Feb 17 -- The remaining matches in the second phase of Asia's qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup finals are set to be postponed until June due to the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Arab Emirates Football Association announced on Wednesday that their qualifiers against Malaysia and Indonesia -- scheduled for March 25 and 30 -- would now be played in June on a centralised basis as part of a rescheduling of the competition.

With travel restrictions and strict quarantine regulations making travel to many Asian nations difficult, a spokesman for the Asian Football Confederation told Reuters the regional body was still in discussions with the competing member associations.

Games involving 40 nations across eight groups in the current round of qualifying had been due to resume in March after matches originally scheduled to be played last year were suspended due to the global health crisis.

Asian nations have not played in qualifying for the World Cup since November 2019 and teams will now be expected to play four times in June in centralised venues, with one nation from each group hosting matches.

The winners of each of the eight groups will qualify for the next phase of Asia's competition to determine the continent's participants at the World Cup alongside the four best runners-up.

Playing the remaining second round matches in June would mean the next phase of the qualifiers could start in September as currently scheduled.

Asia has four guaranteed places at the finals in addition to Qatar - the reigning Asian champions - securing their berth in the tournament as hosts. A further place is available through an intercontinental playoff.