Dubai: Defending champions Al Hilal’s campaign in the 2020 AFC Champions League came to an abrupt end after the club had failed to name the required 13 players following positive tests in their match against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai late on Wednesday.
As the AFC Champions League West Zone group stages approach its end in Doha, Al Hilal — who had already done enough to advance to the Round of 16 stage — were informed they couldn’t continue based on the rules governing the competition.
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Group A had already lost a team when UAE’s Al Wahda had pulled out at the last moment following a few of their staff testing positive for COVID-19 prior to their departure to Doha. With just three teams left, Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli and Esteghlal of Iran advanced to the next stage ahead of Al Shorta, Iraq.
In Group B, Al Hilal, Saudi Arabia were unable to name the mandatory 13 players against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai and had to withdraw from the competition under Article 4.3 of the Special Rules Applicable to AFC Competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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All matches played by Al Hilal — who were able to name only 11 players — are considered null and void according to Article 6 of the AFC Champions League regulations, thereby helping Pakhtakor and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai to progress to the next stage.
Competition regulations allowed 35 players to be registered by each club, but Al Hilal registered just 30, of which only 27 travelled to Doha at the beginning of the competition earlier this month.
In order to support the technical preparations of the club affected by COVID-19, the AFC subsequently allowed the addition of two goalkeepers to replace those who had tested positive while working with the Qatar Football Association to facilitate the timely arrival in Doha of the replacement goalkeepers as well as two other players who had not travelled.
“Throughout the competition, the AFC has maintained an open line of communication with the club and the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) and has dealt with all their concerns and enquiries in a timely manner,” a statement from the AFC, said.
“Despite the efforts of the AFC, Al Hilal and SAFF still requested a postponement of the match against Shabab referencing Article 4.3 of the Special Rules Applicable to AFC Competitions During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” the statement added.
The AFC Champions League (West) COVID-19 Subcommittee decided that a postponement would have a huge negative impact on the current match schedule, and so no exception was granted.
“The AFC Medical Team and the Qatar Health Authorities continue to be committed to the safety and well-being of all the participating clubs and all appropriate medical care and support is being given to those who test positive,” the AFC statement added.
Shabab joined Pakhtakor in the Round of 16 stages that will only be finalised after the last round of matches in Group C and D later on Thursday.