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Doha's rivals to play in Arab tournament in Qatar

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Doha (AFP)

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt will compete in the 22-nation Arab Cup tournament in Qatar in 2021, despite their political and economic boycott of Doha, FIFA said Tuesday.

The competition, to be staged from December 1 to December 18, 2021, will be vital for Qatar to test key infrastructure ahead of the 2022 World Cup, opportunities for which have been limited by the coronavirus crisis.

"We are delighted that all 22 teams from across the Arab world have agreed to take part in the FIFA Arab Cup 2021, which will be held in FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 stadiums, and we are looking forward to seeing the region's best teams battle it out," said FIFA President Gianni Infantino in a statement.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, along with Bahrain which will also participate, abruptly broke off ties with Qatar in 2017 over their claims that Doha was supporting radical Islamist movements and backed Iran, denied by Qatar.

In 2017 the three Gulf countries opposed to Qatar boycotted a regional tournament due to be held in Doha, only participating after the venue was switched to Kuwait.

However in 2019, the countries agreed to participate in the same competition in Qatar, reversing an earlier decision to stay away.

Time to stage large-scale test events ahead of 2022 is running out.

Qatar's delayed Education City stadium launched on June 15, not with a major test fixture but with a virtual inauguration and has yet to host a public match.

Of the eight grounds Qatar will use for 2022, only the new Al-Janoub stadium, inaugurated in May 2019, the refurbished Al-Khalifa International venue, and Education City have so far hosted major public fixtures.

The Qatar Airways International Cup, a mini tournament of four European nations planned as a warm-up for Euro 2020, had been scheduled for late March but also fell victim to COVID-19.

Qatar will host the coronavirus-delayed Club World Cup from February 1 to 11, 2021.

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