The Cambodian national football team could end up playing all its remaining 2022 World Cup qualifying matches in the Middle East.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is looking at staging the remaining Group C matches at a centralised venue. Iran and Bahrain are emerging as the likely venues for those games.
Group C include the national teams of Cambodia, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran and Hong Kong. The five countries are duking it out for the right to advance to the next round of the qualifiers.
The eight group winners plus the four best runners will advance to the third and final round of the World Cup qualifiers and will also qualify for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup finals.
Early this week, Iran formally submitted its request to the AFC to host the remaining Group C matches. Before that, the Bahrain Football Association (BFA) informed the AFC that it also interested in hosting the same matches.
In early February, according to a report in the Jordanian news site Al Bawaba, Cambodia had formally notified the AFC that they will not be able to play their two qualifying matches scheduled for next month due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Angkor Warriors were supposed to play in Bahrain on March 25 and against Iran in Phnom Penh five days later. The AFC has already rescheduled the Cambodia versus Iran match to June 7. There is still no word if the Cambodia versus Bahrain match will push through as scheduled.
Dragan Skocic told Iranian media that it does not matter to him where they play. “It will work out in our favor to host the matches but it doesn’t matter to us to play everywhere else,” he said.
Cambodia’s last match will be against Iraq. After several delays, the match was moved to June 7. But due to the current health situation, it now appears that the game will be postponed once again.
The AFC schedule has been thrown into disarray by the pandemic, with matches postponed repeatedly. The second leg of the qualifiers originally followed a home-and-away round-robin format.
The Angkor Warriors need to sweep its remaining games in order to have a chance of advancing to the next round. Cambodia, which dropped four of five matches earlier, sits at the bottom of the standings with one point to show after five games. Iraq is way ahead with 11 points, followed by Bahrain (nine), Iran (six) and Hong Kong (five).
Iran routed Cambodia, 14-0, during their first leg match in Tehran. Cambodia also lost its first round matches against Bahrain (1-0) and Iraq (4-0). The Angkor Warriors held Hong Kong to a 1-1 draw in Phnom Penh, before Hong Kong exacted a 2-0 revenge months later.
The AFC is expected to announce its decision on the venue soon.