The UAE's remaining matches in World Cup 2022 qualification have been postponed, the Football Association confirmed to The National on Monday.
The decision was taken following emergency meetings held in Dubai and Doha between the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the member associations of the West Zone, as the continent’s football continues to be impacted significantly by the coronavirus outbreak.
Currently fourth in Group G, the UAE had been set to face Malaysia in Dubai on March 26 and then take on Indonesia away five days later. They round off the second phase of qualification with home matches against Thailand and Vietnam, originally scheduled to take place on June 4 and 9, respectively.
New dates have yet to be communicated, with the FA waiting on confirmation from the AFC, who first need to finalise the revised schedule with Fifa. October and November had been mooted. An announcement is expected to be made “very soon”, said the FA, with late Monday or Tuesday likely.
The AFC have stipulated that any Asian qualifiers can still go ahead this month, providing they are mutually agreed between the competing national team’s associations. The AFC have set a March 13 deadline for this month’s matches, and May 3 for the June fixtures.
The UAE, who have new manager Ivan Jovanovic in charge, had planned to gather for a training camp after this weekend in preparation for the crucial double-header.
The squad could still meet, with the FA willing also to discuss the possibility of organising a friendly during the upcoming international break. A new national-team committee will be selected at the FA elections on Thursday, and a decision will then be taken as to whether to provide Jovanovic what would still represent an important period with his new squad. The dates for the camp could be revised, though.
Vietnam top Group G at present, five points ahead of the UAE although they have played one game more. Only the top team are guaranteed to progress to the third round. The UAE have only once previously qualified for the World Cup, in 1990.
Last week, the FA announced that domestic matches would continue across the country, but would be played without fans “until further notice”. Round 18 in the Arabian Gulf League was the first top-flight set of fixtures to be affected.
Also, last week’s Asian Champions League Match Day 3 matches, which involved UAE sides Sharjah, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, Al Wahda, and Al Ain, were all postponed.
Sporting fixtures across the world played out to empty arenas
On Sunday, following meetings in Dubai and another in Doha, the AFC confirmed they would work with their member associations on how to reschedule the remaining group fixtures. As with the East Zone, the knockout stages have been pushed back.
“It is a difficult situation to manage because as an FA we don’t have only one competition,” said Mohammed Hazzam Al Dhaheri, the FA’s general secretary. “We have multiple competitions that start from 12-years-old upwards.
“But of course we are responsible for every single person, not only those in the competitions. Any person playing football is under our responsibility and today we have to be very cautious and put the precautionary measures to help avoid anything adverse happening at the moment.
“The situation is changing daily. You don’t know what happens tomorrow, what happens the day after, so we have to plan for any eventuality.”
The postponements of both the World Cup qualifiers and Asian Champions League group matches have prompted a change to UAE domestic football too.
League officials announced on Monday that Arabian Gulf League fixtures for Matchweek 20 will now be held on March 19-20, followed by games on April 3-4, April 9-10 and April 16-17.
The dates for the last three round of games will be confirmed based on the position of teams competing for the title and to avoid relegation.