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Asia holds first round draw despite World Cup uncertainty

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By Michael Church

HONGKONG (Reuters) – The draw for the first phase of Asia’s qualifying round for the 2022 World Cup finals featuring the continent’s lowest ranked nations was made on Wednesday, even though FIFA has yet to decide how many teams will participate in the tournament.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino continues to promote his plan to expand the tournament from 32 to 48 teams and potentially share the hosting duties originally awarded to Qatar with other nations in the Middle East.

Oman and Kuwait have been approached as potential co-hosts, with a decision to be made at the FIFA congress in Paris on June 5 over the final number of participants and format of the competition.

Despite the uncertainty, Asian football officials conducted the draw for the first round of the continent’s qualifying tournament, which features the region’s 12 lowest ranked national teams.

The tiny Pacific Ocean islanders from Guam, who caused several upsets in the early rounds of qualifying for Russia 2018, will take on Bhutan while Pakistan are slated to meet Cambodia.

Malaysia will play fellow South East Asians East Timor while Laos take on Bangladesh, Macau face Sri Lanka and Brunei face off against Mongolia.

The winners of the two legged ties, which will be played on June 6 with the return on June 11, will advance to the next phase of the competition, which will be determined at the official draw for the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar in July.

2022 World Cup First Round Draw: Mongolia v Brunei Darussalam; Macau v Sri Lanka; Laos v Bangladesh; Malaysia v Timor-Leste; Cambodia v Pakistan; Bhutan v Guam.

Matches to be played on June 6 and June 11

(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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