By Michael Church
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Matches in Group A of Asia's 2022 World Cup preliminaries will be played in an as-yet undetermined neutral venue after the Chinese Football Association announced the games could no longer be played in China, the Asian Football Confederation has said.
The remaining matches involving China, the Maldives, Syria, the Philippines and Guam were due to be held in a bio-secure bubble in Suzhou that would have allowed overseas players and officials into the Chinese city without quarantine.
But a series of positive tests among players from Syria and the Maldives meant teams travelling to China would have been required to isolate upon arrival in the country.
"The Asian Football Confederation has today decided to move the remaining centralised Group A matches of the Asian qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 from China PR to a neutral venue, which will be decided and announced in the coming days," the statement said.
"The decision was made due to the mounting challenges faced by several participating teams in travelling to China PR."
The AFC said it was working with the Chinese Football Association and the other participating nations as well as potential venues to determine the next course of action, with the aim of completing the qualifying schedule.
The Chinese Football Association had said in an earlier statement the games would be played to Dubai.
Only the group winners are guaranteed to advance to the next round of Asia's preliminaries along with the four runners-up across the eight groups with the best records.
China resumed their qualifying schedule on Sunday after 18 months without a competitive game due to the ongoing pandemic as Li Tie's side defeated Guam 7-0 in the former Everton midfielder's first game as coach.
Nearly 30,000 football-starved fans were in attendance in Suzhou for the match and watched Spain-based striker Wu Lei and naturalized forward Alan Carvalho both score twice.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Christian Radnedge)