MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) has been informed of the change in venue of the joint FIFA World Cup/AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, which it says will have a massive financial impact on the organization.
The AFC announced late Monday that matches in Group A of the qualifiers can no longer be played in China, as per the Chinese Football Association.
The matches involving the Philippine Azkals, group leaders Syria, China, Guam, and the Maldives were supposed to be held in a bubble in Suzhou. However, players and officials from Syria and the Maldives tested positive for COVID-19. According to a Reuters report, this meant that teams traveling to China would have been required to isolate upon arrival.
Instead of holding games in the Suzhou bubble, they will instead be held in a neutral venue that AFC has yet to identify, although reports indicate it will be in Dubai.
"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 AFC said.
"The decision was made due to the mounting challenges faced by several participating teams in travelling to China PR."
According to the PFF, the Azkals were set to take a chartered flight from their training base in Doha, Qatar to Shanghai, China on Monday.
The entire Philippine delegation underwent two RT-PCR tests in the last 72 hours, the results of which all returned negative.
With the recent developments, however, the Azkals are now staying put in Doha while waiting for an official announcement from the AFC.
"The cancellation of the Group A matches in China PR has left a huge financial impact on the PFF as it needed to cancel the chartered flight at the last minute," the organization said.
"While the PFF remains hopeful for an agreement among the Participating Member Associations (PMAs), China PR, Guam, Maldives, and Syria on the venue as well as the schedule of the matches, the federation stresses the importance of the health and safety of everyone involved in the competition."
In a separate statement, Azkals team manager Dan Palami said the team will continue to train in Doha, Qatar while waiting for word from the AFC on the final venue and schedule of their matches.
Palami also revealed that while all the members of their delegation tested negative, two team officials will be barred from entering China as they were positive in thee IGM Antibodies, likely due to their recent vaccination.
Two other team officials were also advised that they will be barred from entering China due to a prior history of COVID-19 in 2020.
"We would have been severely short-handed in China if the games pushed through there," said Palami.
The Azkals were set to face Guam on June 3, China on June 9, and the Maldives on June 15. They are currently joint second in Group A.