AFC president ‘sure’ Asian football will resume this season

Updated June 25, 2020

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Pakistan football team players practice during a training session. — AFP/File
Pakistan football team players practice during a training session. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Asia’s football chief is optimistic that football will resume on the continent this season despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa said on Wednesday that he expects cooperation between Asian countries will help the continent’s elite club competition, the AFC Champions League, to resume this season.

The Champions League was suspended in March with just two match-days played and the AFC is since in a race against time to complete the season before the December’s FIFA Club World Cup that will feature the Asian champions.

“During this pandemic, we worked with member associations, leagues and clubs, and we are sure that tournaments such as the AFC Champions League will return,” Sheikh Salman said at a webinar titled ‘Covid-19 and Football — How to shape a new future’, organised by the United Arab Emirates Football Association in partnership with the International Sports Convention.

“It is another demonstration of the AFC’s unity and determination to assist its member associations to prosper and for their teams to take part in top level competitions. The world will change but change can be positive. Through solidarity and unity, we will rise together stronger.”

Most of the top domestic leagues in Asia are in various stages of resuming after the virus outbreak and Sheikh Salman said that it represented “light at the end of the tunnel”.

In an interview with Dawn earlier this week, AFC secretary general Windsor John had said “all options were being explored” in order to complete the Champions League season.

Only 48 of the scheduled 192 matches were played before the virus-impacted suspension of the competition and options being considered include changing the format as well as hosting the rest of the tournament in a single country.

With matches in the joint-qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup also suspended, it has raised doubts over whether the field will be completed in time for this year’s AFC Solidarity Cup, a tournament for teams eliminated in the first and second round of the qualifiers.

Pakistan were due to participate in the Solidarity Cup as one of the teams which exited the qualifiers in the first round.

The AFC has agreed on dates in October and November to finish the second round of the qualifiers and there will be more clarity on those dates when the FIFA Council finalises the international match calendar when it meets on Thursday.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said the pandemic had given time to analyse what needs to be done to develop football in the world.

“We have analysed the situation with all the continental and member associations to develop and help each other,” he said in a recorded message during the webinar. “This is just the beginning of the matter as we can analyse what we did previously in order to develop more and work more for football in the whole world.”

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2020