Football: Qatar to host pre-World Cup test tournament in 2021

A general view inside Qatar's Education City Stadium., VIDEO: REUTERS

DOHA (AFP) - Qatar will host a pan-Arab football tournament in November and December 2021 as a dry-run exactly a year before the 2022 World Cup, the country's soccer association said on Thursday (June 25).

The 22-nation men's invitational competition will be vital for Qatar to test key infrastructure ahead of 2022, opportunities for which have been limited by the coronavirus crisis.

Qatar's delayed Education City stadium launched on June 15 not with a major test fixture but with a virtual inauguration and has yet to host a public match.

Of the eight grounds Qatar will use for 2022, only the new Al-Janoub stadium, inaugurated in May 2019, and the refurbished Al-Khalifa International venue have so far hosted major public fixtures.

The Qatar Airways International Cup, a mini tournament of four European planned as a warm-up for Euro 2020, had been scheduled for late March but also fell victim to COVID-19.

Despite reporting the first coronavirus death of a worker involved in World Cup construction on Thursday alongside 1,102 confirmed workforce cases since March, officials say more than 80 percent of infrastructure is ready.

"(It) will allow the organisers to use facilities and run operations that are also planned for the subsequent FIFA World Cup 2022," the Qatar Football Association said in a statement.

"All tournament matches will be played at Qatar 2022 stadiums.

"In addition to utilising Qatar 2022 stadiums and training sites, the tournament will provide a vital opportunity for fans, players and officials to use host country facilities, including transport and accommodation."

Qatar has yet to confirm which countries will participate although the participation or absence of Doha's rivals Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates will be closely watched.

The four countries abruptly broke off ties with Qatar in 2017 over their claims that Doha was supporting radical Islamist movements and backed Iran, denied by Qatar.

In 2017 the three Gulf countries opposed to Qatar boycotted a regional tournament due to be held in Doha, only participating after the venue was switched to Kuwait.

However in 2019, the countries agreed to participate in the same competition in Qatar, reversing an earlier decision to stay away.

Qatar illustrated its announcement of the new 2021 tournament with an image of a trio of smiling football fans holdings the flags of Qatar, Saudi and Bahrain.

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