International Competitions - May 20, 2021 08:45The AFC Playoff for Lithuania: Sorting out the FactsMohamed Fairoze Muhiseen's opinion on the matterText by Steve Harris - Futsal Japan

The AFC’s Unconventional Solution to Its World Cup Problem

The AFC playoff series begins today – and the stakes couldn’t be higher: victory in a home-and-away format means a ticket to Lithuania ’21. The AFC’s process for choosing its five World Cup representatives has been very unconventional and somewhat controversial.

To summarize, cancellation of the AFC Championship that was to serve as the Asian qualification round for Lithuania ’21 triggered a series of events.

- On Apr. 19, the AFC Executive Committee decided that three of Asia’s five berths to the World Cup would be automatically awarded to Iran, Japan and Uzbekistan due to past performances in the past AFC Championships.

- Based on the same criteria, Iraq, Lebanon, Thailand and Vietnam were singled out to be drawn into two home-and-away series, each team responsible for organizing its home match. On Apr. 27, the AFC held the official draw for the playoff games, resulting in the Iraq-Thailand and Lebanon-Vietnam pairings. The two winners will claim the remaining two World Cup spots.

- Due to travel and organizational difficulties imposed by the pandemic, all four teams requested that the UAE Football Association provide a neutral venue to host the playoffs. Each team would be responsible for all organizational costs incurred by their own home match.

- The UAE accepted the request and the timing: May 20-25. This meant that UAE officials had less than one month to prepare.

An Expert Steps up

The UAE FA and Futsal Committee called on Mohamed Fairoze Muhiseen, a native of Sri Lanka who might be familiar to anybody who has watched FIFA World Cup, AFC Championship and Intercontinental Cup competitions over the last decade. When serving as the competition manager at these futsal events, he is usually at the head of the procession of officials and players as they enter the pitch prior to matches. In desperate need of an individual with experience in such matters, the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) in the UAE called on Mohamed as a technical advisor.

Now Managing Director of event-planning company Futsal and Beach Soccer International, Mohamed echoes the participating teams’ effusive praise for the efforts made by the LOC. “The situation for the teams involved is ‘do or die,’ so they have been very grateful to both the UAE FA and UAE Futsal Committee for coming forward to satisfy the request.”

Selection of the venue was not difficult. “Since the number of COVID-19 cases in Khor Fakkan is one of the lowest in all of UAE, it was selected as the venue because it posed the least risk to the four teams and AFC officials.” He adds that the UAE organizers worked with miraculous speed to arrange all visas for players and officials over such a short period of time.

The criticism directed in social media at Khor Fakkam Sports Club Hall caught Mohamed by surprise, as he had already addressed the issue. “The stadium in Khor Fakkam is like every hall in the UAE in that it accommodates multiple sports. I informed the UAE organizers that all lines other than the futsal lines would have to be covered in order to meet the AFC technical standards and the FIFA Laws of the Game, an expense the teams accepted as a provision in the agreement with the LOC. The friendlies played by these teams took place on other pitches, not the official pitch that is to be used in the actual playoff matches.”

“So, with support from the UAE FA, the UAE Futsal Committee and the Khor Fakkan Sports Club, the official venue is now ready to kick off tomorrow’s match between Iraq and Thailand..”

All that remains: four teams in four games to decide on which two get to go to the Big Show.

Posted by Luca Ranocchiari -->

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