Lions' World Cup qualifiers on ice

Matches against Group D rivals postponed but can go ahead if teams agree and get approval

The Singapore football team's remaining World Cup qualifiers later this month and in June have been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

World governing body Fifa announced yesterday that it had agreed with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to postpone all upcoming second round Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup.

The matches against Group D opponents Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan were initially scheduled to take place between March 23 and 31 as well as June 1 and 9.

However, Fifa said that matches could still go ahead if the member associations due to play each other mutually agree, subject to prior approval from both Fifa and the AFC.

"Fifa and the AFC will continue to assess the situation in relation to Covid-19 and will decide whether further changes to the schedule of the Asian Fifa World Cup 2022 qualifiers are required, always with the aim of protecting the safety and health of all individuals involved," said the statement.

Singapore, with seven points and two behind leaders Uzbekistan, are third in the group, which also includes Yemen, after five matches.

The Lions were scheduled to travel to Al Ram to take on Palestine on March 26, before returning to host the group's top seeds Saudi Arabia (eight points) at the National Stadium on March 31.

Their last Group D qualifier was scheduled for June 4, away to Uzbekistan.

The game against Palestine is now unlikely to take place after Israel banned all travellers from Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand from Feb 14 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, temporarily suspended visas for pilgrims from countries with Covid-19 cases on Feb 27, affecting some 2,000 Singaporeans.

An FAS statement yesterday said: "Fifa and the AFC will continue to assess the situation in relation to Covid-19 and will communicate to the FAS details of any further changes to the fixture schedule in due course."

On March 2, Singapore coach Tatsuma Yoshida called up 25 players from the Singapore Premier League for two training sessions as part of preparations for the Palestine and Saudi Arabia games.

The top finisher in each of the eight groups and best four second-placed teams will progress to the third round of World Cup qualifiers and secure a spot at the 2023 Asian Cup in China.

After the coronavirus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December, there have been almost 97,000 cases in 36 Asian nations and territories, with over 3,400 deaths.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2020, with the headline 'Lions' World Cup qualifiers on ice'. Print Edition | Subscribe