China To Continue World Cup Qualifier Journey in October Amid Uncertainties

World Cup qualification games in Asia will resume later this year in October, according to the Asian Football Confederation announcement concerning the 2022 World Cup. The World Cup qualification games will also serve as the qualification tournament for the 2023 Asian Cup.

“Matchdays 7 and 8 are now scheduled to take place on October 8 and 13, 2020 respectively while Matchdays 9 and 10 are due to kick off on November 12 and 17, 2020.” The Asian Football Confederation said in a statement.

The games were previously scheduled in March and June this year but were postponed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

According to reports from Sohu Sports, the proposal to restart the qualification games are approved by FIFA: “The latest decision has been taken with a view to completing the Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 by November 2020 and to commence the subsequent FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Asian Qualifiers Final Round as well as the play-off matches for the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Round 3 Qualifiers by the March 2021 match dates in the FIFA International Calendar.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strike countries around the world, the Asian Football Confederation vowed to monitor the situation closely and update all parties in the case of rescheduling matches. ”The AFC will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all teams, officials, fans and stakeholders as well as government travel and medical restrictions and will notify all parties should there be a need to reassess the match schedules due to the ever-evolving impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Teams administered by the Asian Football Confederation are currently in round 2 of the AFC World Cup qualification games. There are 40 teams in this stage of the competition and these teams are divided into 8 groups. 8 group winners will directly enter the third round of qualification, while the 4 best group runner-ups will also qualify for the next round of the World Cup qualification tournament. If the 2022 FIFA World Cup host finishes round 2 as either a group winner or one of the best four group runner-ups, the fifth-best group runner-up will then qualify for round 3.

Most teams have finished either 4 or 5 games in the tournament. The remaining four match days will conclude the round 2 competitions, ensuring the start of round 3 qualifiers to begin in 2021.

Team China is currently on its 5th attempt to enter the World Cup final stages since its debut at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. China has yet to qualify since its one-time success 18 years ago. The Chinese national team is currently ranked 2nd place in Group A. With 2 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss, team China has 7 points, trailing behind the group leader Syria with an 8-point deficit. Despite putting significant efforts into naturalizing foreign-born players to improve the team, team China has yet to deliver any successful results.

China will play against the Maldives at home on October 8 and fly to Guam for its subsequent match on October 13. In November, China will face the Philippines and Syria on its home pitch to finish its round 2 journey. China needs to either finish as the group winner or rank as one of the best four group runner-ups to continue its hope to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Despite Qatar hosting the upcoming FIFA World Cup tournament, the AFC qualification tournament will still have 45 teams to go to the World Cup finals. Once entering round 3, the remaining 12 teams will be split into two groups. Each team in the same group will be playing against every other team twice. The group winners and runner-ups will directly qualify for the FIFA World Cup, while the two group third-place teams will go into round 4 to compete for the final intercontinental playoff opportunity to make their way to Qatar.

The current members of the Chinese national team squad face the predicament of having no games to play. While nearly all countries in East Asia are restarting their respective professional football tournaments in their countries, China has yet to have a confirmed date to start its postponed 2020 Chinese Super League. Various proposals made by the Chinese Football Association to start the tournament were rejected by the country’s sports events governing bodies. The Chinese Super League is rumored to restart in July, yet the location and format remain uncertain.

Team China has been practicing on a regular basis amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For the newly appointed head coach Li Tie, the next four games will be a crucial turning point for his coaching career. The former Everton and Chinese national team player took over the position after former World Cup Champion Marcello Lippi resigned after losing to Syria last year. Li is the youngest head coach in the history of the Chinese national team. Li had a successful career in coaching Chinese professional football clubs as he helped two Chinese League One teams qualify for the Chinese Super League in 2015 and 2018. Li was also one of the finalists for the Chinese Super League coach of the year award in 2019.

The upcoming four games are critical for the Chinese team to enter round 3. Trailing by 8 points, it is becoming increasingly difficult for China to finish round 2 as a group winner. The Chinese team will need to maximize its goals and points to fight for a better chance to advance to the next stage.

China entered round 3 in the 2018 World Cup qualification games, but finished fifth in group A. That Chinese team was also in a struggling spot to enter round 3 from its mediocre performances in round 2. The Chinese team qualified for round 3 as the fourth-best group runner-up.