China to play 2022 World Cup qualifiers in neutral Thailand

              People wearing face masks walk through a public park in Beijing, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. China reported a further fall in new virus cases to 889 on Friday as health officials expressed optimism over containment of the outbreak that has caused more than 2,200 deaths and is spreading elsewhere. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

ZURICH (AP) — China will play two World Cup qualifying games next month in neutral Thailand because of the virus outbreak in the country, FIFA said Friday.

China was to host the Maldives on March 26 and travel to face Guam, a U.S. territory, five days later.

Both games will now be played at Buriram, Thailand, FIFA said in a statement citing “the current situation in connection with the coronavirus and following consultation with the relevant member associations.”

Spectators will likely be barred from entering the stadium.

China is currently second behind Syria in a five-team qualifying group. The top two teams enter a final group stage to advance to the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

China is scheduled to host the Philippines and Syria in June, but many sports matches and competitions have been canceled, postponed or moved from China since the virus emerged in Wuhan late last year.