World Cup qualifying intensifies in Asia with new FIFA rules

Qualifying games in Asia for the 2022 World Cup intensify in September with two war-affected nations unable to host home games, and with updated FIFA rules implemented to help protect players’ health and ensure match highlights are seen more widely.

Yemen and Afghanistan will play their first “home” games in five-team qualifying groups in neutral countries for security reasons.

FIFA said Friday that Yemen will host Saudi Arabia on Sept. 10 in Bahrain’s national stadium, and Afghanistan will face Bangladesh in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe.

Syria has its first “home” game in October, against Maldives, and will also host in a neutral country with the venue still to be confirmed by FIFA.

The 40-team first Asian group stage will see regional powers Iran, Japan, South Korea and Australia kick off their bids to try to advance to Qatar.

Action from all games — which will include the first preliminary round in Africa from Wednesday, among around 800 matches played over 2½ years — should be seen by more fans globally.

FIFA has updated its 2022 tournament rules from the 2018 edition, and now insists broadcast rights holders give soccer’s world body “15 minutes of action footage per match.”

“FIFA shall use this footage free of charge for promotional purposes in the preliminary competition and in football worldwide,” the new rules state.

Seeking to safeguard players’ health, Word Cup rules now demand stricter medical checks, including for potential heart issues, before a team’s first qualifying game. The medical assessments were previously only required before the 32-team finals tournament.

A concussion protocol for players sustaining head injuries is also specified in more detail.

Stricter checks on players’ nationality are now made before they can be named on a team sheet.

For the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, players could provide an identity card to prove who they were. For the 2018 edition, passports were needed.

Tightening the demand further, FIFA now insists players produce a “valid permanent international passport” before the game for official match delegates to inspect before being selected.

All 211 FIFA member federations are expected to formally enter this World Cup, though how they do so has changed.

Entries by fax and email, backed up by a letter by post or courier, are no longer accepted. FIFA’s rule book states that team officials must use a “dedicated extranet online registration.”

In Asia, the eight five-team groups in the upcoming qualifying round will play from September through June.

Group winners and the four best runners-up advance to another group stage, played from September 2020 to October 2021. Those same 12 teams also qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup.

Four Asian teams will qualify directly for the 32-team World Cup. A fifth nation can advance to Qatar in an intercontinental playoff round in March 2022.

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