January 22 – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has confirmed it is moving two Asian Champions League preliminary matches out of Iran to neutral venues because of security concerns, a move that has infuriated Iranian authorities.
Shahr Khodro FC were scheduled to host Bahrain’s Riffa and Esteghlal FC were set to play Kuwait SC on Tuesday but both were postponed and rescheduled for the United Arab Emirates at the weekend.
“To help facilitate the switch to neutral venues, which has been approved by the relevant AFC committees, the AFC will now reschedule the games to January 25, 2020 in the United Arab Emirates,” the AFC said in a brief statement.
The move comes after Iranian forces accidentally shot down a Ukraine airline on January 8, killing all 176 onboard amid tensions following the assassination by the United States of prominent general Qassem Suleimani.
Iran has already threatened to boycott the tournament altogether over the ban on staging home games, saying they will withdraw all four of their clubs which also include Persepolis and Sepahan .
But there is precedent. Iran also threatened to boycott the tournament when matches against Saudi teams were switched to neutral venues before relenting.
Persepolis have been drawn to meet Al Duhail from Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s Al Taawon and United Arab Emirates champions Sharjah in the group phase of this year’s competition. Sepahan are slated to meet Saudi champions Al Nassr, Qatar’s Al Sadd and a qualifier from the play-offs.
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