September 24 – Defending champions Al Hilal have been booted out of the Asian Champions League for naming only 11 players for their final group game with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai after a massive Covid-19 outbreak struck at the heart of the playing staff.
No fewer than 15 Al Hilal players were ruled out after testing positive last week, meaning the Saudi Arabian side only named nine players in their starting line-up, plus two goalkeepers on the bench.
The club qualified for the knockout stage with a goalless draw against Iran’s Shahr Khodro on Sunday when they narrowly avoided sanction by naming a squad of 14.
In a statement the Asian Football Confederation said Al Hilal had “failed to name the required 13 players for their AFC Champions League (West) Group B match against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai.”
“Under the Article 4.3 of the special rules applicable to AFC competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic, (Al Hilal) are deemed to have withdrawn from the competition.”
As a result, all of Al Hilal’s matches have been declared null and void, allowing Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai to progress to the Round of 16 from Group B.
The ruling represents a massive blow for Al Hilal who defeated Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in the final last season and had travelled to Qatar to complete the AFC Champions League in a mini-tournament, similar to how the European version was finished.
Al Hilal and the Saudi Arabian federation requested a postponement but, according to the AFC, at least 13 players must be named in the squad for a club to participate.
“If a participating team or club has less than 13 players (including one goalkeeper) available for a match for any reason (whether or not relating to Covid-19), the relevant club shall not be able to participate in the match,” the confederation said.
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