2022 World Cup: Qualifying congestion affects draw plans

FIFA said its council agreed to push back a four-team intercontinental playoff round from March 2022 to June that year due to fixture congestion caused by the pandemic.

A general view of the Al Bayt Stadium.   -  GETTY IMAGES

The tournament draw for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar could be made before the 32-team lineup is complete, or be delayed for two months, after FIFA rescheduled a qualifying playoff on Thursday.

FIFA said its council agreed to push back a four-team intercontinental playoff round from March 2022 to June that year due to fixture congestion caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The draw for the tournament has long been slated for late April 2022, likely in Doha. However, the delay in qualifying means FIFA will have to decide whether to postpone the draw as well, or hold it before knowing the complete lineup of teams.

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FIFA said the current plan is still for the event to go ahead in April 2022 - with two teams yet to be decided - but it has the option to wait until after the June playoffs. The tournament opens on Nov. 21 that year.

The draw ceremony is typically an upscale event. For the 2018 edition, Russian President Vladimir Putin attended at a theater inside the Kremlin complex in Moscow.

The intercontinental playoffs involves one team from each of four confederations- Asia, North America’s CONCACAF, South America’s CONMEBOL and Oceania. Two teams advance to the World Cup.

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Europe’s UEFA has its own 12-team playoffs planned in March 2022 to decide three qualifying places. Africa has no playoff round.

World Cup qualifying in South America and Asia has fallen behind schedule after games were postponed in March and June.

South American qualifiers should now start in September “subject to continued monitoring of the situation,” FIFA said on Thursday.

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Brazil, a five-time World Cup winner, has the world-’s second-highest officially recorded death total for COVID-19. The tally approached 54,000 on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

FIFA’s ruling committee also approved a new test competition for Qatar’s organizers, featuring 22 Arab nations.

The pan-Arab invitational tournament will run from Dec. 1-18, 2021 in Qatar. It will involve home-based players from clubs in each country’s domestic championship, rather than those based abroad such as star players with clubs in Europe.

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