By Paul Nicholson
October 9 – Qatar has stepped up in the Asian Football Confederation’s hour of need to host the four uncompleted AFC Champions League (East) groups and knockout rounds, starting November 18, in Doha. Their hosting will enable the completion of the AFC’s flagship club competition which had been identified as a priority by the confederation.
The Qataris last week successfully, and safely, completed the hosting of the West Zone half of the ACL draw, with Iranian giants Persepolis qualifying for the final to be played in Doha on December 19.
Restarting the East Zone ACL group stages has proved more problematic with negotiations over centralised venues foundering on travel restrictions, blocked international travel between certain countries, and quarantine requirements.
That Qatar have stepped up to fill what was looking like a gaping hole is a credit to the country’s football community and its commitment to the game. It also showcases Qatar’s ability to host major events in a secure environment during a time of crisis.
AFC General Secretary Dato’ Windsor John said: “We are extremely grateful for the outstanding support of the QFA and are pleased that 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.
“We recognise the huge amount of work undertaken by the QFA, in conjunction with the AFC, the Qatar Local Authorities and Ministries, to ensure the smooth delivery of the AFC Champions League (West) and we look forward to a similarly positive collaboration for the AFC Champions League (East).”
That recognition will not go unrecognised by the rest of the region. Qatar is bidding to host the 2027 Asian Cup with local rivals Saudi Arabia also having announced that 2027 hosting is an important initiative in the sporting and cultural development of their nation. Other bidders are India, Iran and Uzbekistan.
The four ACL East Zone groups will see 16 teams gather in Qatar. The coronavirus shutdown in east Asia in early March meant that no team in the groups of four have played more than two games. Chinese clubs Shanghai Shenhua, Shanghai SIPG, and Guangzhou Evergrande have yet to open their group campaign.
The schedule of games will be hectic with group games starting November 18 (clubs have between four and six games to play), followed by Round of 16 knock-outs on December 6/7, Quarter finals on December 10 and the semi-final on December 13.
The logisitics of delivering the games in a safe bio-secure environment are challenging but John pointed to the successful delivery of the West Zone’s four group stages and knock-out rounds.
“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 as the AFC insisted that the welfare and well-being of the players, officials and match officials was our top priority,” said John.
“Through the planning and delivery of these extremely strict and effective protocols, I am delighted that we will be able to successfully complete the AFC Champions League, despite the enormous challenges in this unprecedented year, as we promised all our stakeholders.”
For Qatar it is another opportunity to showcase their facilities and capabilities before the 2022 World Cup.
QFA Secretary General Mansoor Alansari said: “We are very happy to provide a safe environment for the AFC in order to complete the AFC Champions League and look forward to hosting the leading clubs from the East Zone during November and December. Qatar knows how important football is to Asia so is pleased to be able to offer the world-class sporting infrastructure and operational and health and safety expertise that exists in the country to allow for the resumption of competitive Continental football once again.”
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