Qatar is looming as the likely venue for the Socceroos’ remaining Group B FIFA World Cup qualifiers, unless the Australian government relaxes its strict quarantine rules to make it feasible for players from overseas to travel here for a June hub.
Football Australia is lobbying ministers hard in a bid to secure some elasticity to the blanket two-week COVID quarantine period faced by all international arrivals.
To date there has been little indication any exemptions will be granted to offshore-based Socceroos and traveling parties from Jordan, Kuwait, Nepal and Taiwan.
Negotiations are ongoing, with Football Australia winning tacit approval from FIFA and the AFC to stage the hub here, whilst working feverishly to convince government to come to the party.
There’s an irony at play amidst the machinations, with the James Johnson-led FA finally in a position to influence football politics at the highest level within FIFA and the AFC but needing their own government to play ball to square the circle.
Several states are competing behind the scenes to secure the games, but unless federal authorities are willing to yield then the Socceroos - who lead Group B by two points after four straight wins - will be heading to Doha from May 31 to June 15 to play their four remaining fixtures against Nepal, Kuwait, Jordan and Taiwan.
They were scheduled to face Nepal in Kathmandu on March 30, but that match was called off yesterday because of the insurmountable logistical challenges.
The AFC said in a statement the decision was reached in response to the “evolving impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and new travel and quarantine restrictions” within the competing nations.
Johnson, who has previously held senior positions at the AFC and FIFA, still has several weeks up his sleeve as conversations continue with Australian authorities.
Qatar, meanwhile, is ready to welcome all five nations, having recently staged the remainder of AFC Champions League, including the knockout stage and the final.
Referring to the AFC decision to can Kathmandu and switch to a June hub, Johnson said in a statement: “With FIFA having expanded the June window to allow for international matches from 31 May to 15 June, we will need to utilise that period to complete our remaining Group B fixtures prior to the June 15 deadline.
“We remain committed to the restart of national team football in a COVID-safe manner as soon as possible, and will work with AFC and FIFA, as well as the Football Associations of Nepal, Jordan, Kuwait, and Chinese Taipei, to play out our remaining qualifiers in a suitable location.”
The Socceroos have been dormant since November 2019 – their longest period in mothballs in more then 50 years.