By Michael Church
HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's hopes of advancing past the second round of 2022 World Cup qualifying were boosted on Friday when the Asian Football Confederation said the country would host all the remaining matches in Group A.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused havoc for the entire qualifying tournament, with the majority of matches originally rescheduled for March pushed back to June.
Kuwait will host the remaining games to be played in Group B, which also features runaway leaders Australia, Jordan, Chinese Taipei and Nepal.
Iran travel to Bahrain in Group C, where the hosts will be joined by Iraq, Hong Kong and Cambodia, while Saudi Arabia hosts Uzbekistan, Singapore, Yemen and Palestine in Group D.
Oman, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh will play their Group E matches alongside Qatar in Doha and Group F leaders Japan will host Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Myanmar and Mongolia.
The United Arab Emirates will welcome Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand for Group G and South Korea will host Group H rivals Turkmenistan, Lebanon, North Korea and Sri Lanka.
Games will be played from May 31 until June 15.
China are second in Group A and trail Syria by eight points having played one game fewer after struggling in their opening four games under former coach Marcello Lippi.
Only the winners of the eight groups are certain to advance to the third phase of qualifying, from where the continent's four guaranteed places at the finals in Qatar in 2022 will be determined.
Lippi's China beat the Maldives and Guam but drew with the Philippines and lost to Syria in their four Group A matches so far, prompting the Italian to stand down in November 2019.
The Chinese, now coached by former Everton midfielder Li Tie, have not played a competitive game since the defeat against Syria due to the pandemic.
(Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, Editing by Peter Rutherford)