The World Cup qualifier between Iraq and Iran as well as Australia-China will be held at a neutral venue in Doha due to security and COVID-19 related reasons, the Asian Football Confederation said on Thursday.
Both matches will be held at the Khalifa International Stadium in Qatar's capital, with Australia facing China on Sept. 2 and Iraq playing Iran five days later.
The AFC said in a statement that the "the ongoing security situation" in Iraq and Syria forced the Asian soccer governing body to move the Iraq-Iran match, while the Australia-China game, originally planned for Sydney, was affected by COVID-19.
"... The upcoming home matches involving the four nations will be held at neutral venues as part of the AFC's efforts to ensure the highest safety standards and optimum playing conditions for all stakeholders," the AFC said in a statement https://www.the-afc.com/competitions/afc-asian-cup/news/venues-for-the-afc-asian-qualifiers-road-to-qatartm-openers-confirmed.
Troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/rocket-attack-iraqi-base-housing-us-forces-iraqi-military-sources-2021-07-07 in three rocket and drone attacks last month.
Australia's new daily cases of COVID-19 topped 1,000 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-australia/sydney-hospitals-erect-emergency-tents-as-covid-19-cases-hit-record-idUSKBN2FR000 on Thursday for the first time since the pandemic began, while there have been a total of 94,687 infections in China according to a Reuters tally https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/countries-and-territories/china.
Iraq and Iran are in Group A, while Australia and China are in Group B of the continent's third round of qualifying for the World Cup.
The top two teams in both groups will qualify for the Qatar 2022 finals, while the third-placed teams enter a series of playoffs for a possible fifth place for Asian countries.
(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)