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Japan edges ahead of Saudi and Qatar to host Asian Cup

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Al Rayan Stadium, Doha

The Japan Football Association (JFA) has been informally approached about the possibility of replacing China as hosts of next year’s Asian Cup, Chairman Kozo Tashima told Nikkan Sports.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced last Saturday that China had pulled out of hosting the 24-team continental championship, citing the COVID-19 situation in the country.

“We were sounded out,” Tashima told the newspaper, without giving further details.

“If Japan were able to host, there’s no question that it would be pretty exciting.”

The JFA was not immediately available for comment.

Japan has the stadium infrastructure in place to stage the tournament in June and July next year, having co-hosted the World Cup in 2002, rugby’s global showpiece in 2019 and the Olympic soccer tournament last year.

Other potential hosts such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Australia would need the tournament moved back to late 2023 or early 2024.

Qatar, which will host the World Cup later this year, and Saudi Arabia would be inhospitable in the middle of the year because of the summer heat, while Australia is co-hosting the women’s World Cup in July and August 2023.

Last year’s Tokyo Olympics were held in a bio-secure bubble with limited local crowds because of fears of athletes and officials spreading the novel coronavirus.

Japan said on Tuesday, however, that it would start conducting “test tourism” in the form of limited package tours in May as a way of gathering information prior to a full re-opening of the country to tourism.

Tourists have not been permitted to enter Japan since the country adopted strict border controls in 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

Japan has won the Asian Cup a record four times and previously hosted the tournament in 1992, when only eight teams took part.

The AFC, which has not responded to requests for information about the process of replacing the host country, is meeting for its 32nd Congress in Kuala Lumpur later on Wednesday.