KUALA LUMPUR: The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Friday said it has moved all remaining Asian Champions League games for East zone sides to Qatar from Malaysia due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The games, including remaining group matches, will now take place from November 18 to December 13 in Doha, which earlier this week saw the conclusion of West zone matches where Iran’s Persepolis advanced to the December 19 final.

Perspolis beat Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia 5-3 on penalties after the teams were level 1-1 after extra time.

The AFC said Qatar won a reopened bidding process to host the matches. It said it had reopened bidding after rescheduling the East zone matches from October because of the complexity of the competition in the face of the pandemic.

East zone sides hail from China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Australia and Thailand.

“We are extremely grateful for the outstanding support of the QFA [Qatar Football Association],” AFC secretary general Dato Windsor John said in an earlier statement.

“We can now build on the success of the AFC Champions League [West] while looking forward to the remaining exciting matches in Asia’s premier club competition.”

Steve Corica, head coach of Sydney FC, one of three Australian teams in the competition, said with the arrangements set, his side could now look forward to the challenge.

“It’s pleasing to now know where we’ll be playing and when, and we’re looking forward to the trip providing we get the right bio-security clearances and approvals,” he said.

“We have unfinished business in Group H and the boys are really looking forward to getting stuck back in against the best in Asia.”

The AFC has had to repeatedly change its calendar due to the virus. East-zone groups G and H had been scheduled to be played in Malaysia, which is currently battling a surge in virus cases.

The Asian Champions League was suspended in March due to the pandemic, and Chinese clubs Shanghai SIPG, Shanghai Shenhua and Guangzhou Evergrande are yet to play any group matches.

West zone games were moved to Qatar when playing resumed last month.

The western division teams were subject to testing and biosecure hotels and transport during their stay in Qatar, and similar is planned for the eastern group.

“Everything from the arrival of the teams, the efficient immigration process, the rigorous health screenings, hotels with biosecurity measures, to the state-of-the-art training facilities and stadiums were of the highest possible standard,” Windsor John said.

Despite stringent bio-security measures, several teams were affected by the novel coronavirus, with last year’s winners Al Hilal axed from the competition after they reached the knockout phase with a game to spare.

The Saudi side had 30 players and staff infected by Covid-19 and so were unable to field the minimum number of players required for their final group match.

A second team, Al-Wahda of the United Arab Emirates, did not travel to Qatar because of virus cases.

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2020

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