Iran will play Syria in a friendly fixture at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on March 30, according to Amir-Mehdi Alavi, the spokesman of Iran Football Federation.
The Syria game was scheduled after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) pushed back the late March Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup to June due to COVID-19 restrictions in parts of the continent.
Iran was to play Hong Kong and Cambodia in Group C of the qualifiers.
The Asian powerhouse was last in action at the qualification campaign in November 2019 – a 2-1 defeat against Iraq – as all eight groups’ fixtures have been postponed for 14 months because of the pandemic.
The Croatian manager Dragan Skocic will be without overseas players – namely Porto’s Mehdi Taremi, Zenit St. Petersburg’s Sardar Azmoun, and Charleroi duo Kaveh Rezaei and Ali Qolizadeh – for the Syria friendly as the game will not be played inside FIFA’s international week.
A decisive 12 days, starting June 3 with a game against Hong Kong, will see Skocic’s men conclude the remainder of the qualifiers.
Iran will then play Bahrain on June 7, with the last two rounds in the group seeing the team square off against Cambodia and Iraq on June 11 and 15.
The AFC is yet to announce the final decision regarding the host venues of the groups.
Multiple sources had suggested in recent weeks that the successful experience of restarting the Asian Champions League in Qatar last October could urge the Asian football governing body to give the go-ahead for the rest of the qualifiers to be played in a centralized format, with Qatar and the UAE being the favorites to host all matches.
Iran is third in the group with six points, trailing Iraq and Bahrain by five and three points respectively, albeit with a game in hand.
Under then manager Marc Wilmots, Iran got off to a flying start in its bid to secure a third successive berth in the finals, beating Hong Kong 2-0 before thrashing Cambodia 14-0 in Tehran.
However, back-to-back defeats against Bahrain (1-0) and Iraq, which led to Iran parting ways with the Belgian manager, left the country’s chances of advancing to the next round hanging in the balance.
Eight group winners plus four best runners-up will progress to the final round of qualifiers.