Asian Champions League delays knockout rounds due to coronavirus

KUALA LUMPUR: The Asian Champions League pushed back the start of its Eastern zone knockout rounds on Monday after the competition was severely disrupted by the novel coronavirus.

Extra dates for group games were scheduled for May and June, shunting the round of 16, which usually takes place in May, to August.

It is just the latest reshuffle for Asia’s premier club football competition as it struggles to accommodate a raft of postponements.

Chinese teams have been mostly sidelined until April, and games involving two South Korean clubs have also been delayed.

“These are challenging and unprecedented times,” Asian Football Confederation (AFC) general Windsor John said in a statement, after emergency talks in Kuala Lumpur.

“AFC will not put anyone at risk during these times of heightened health concerns and so we have taken some sensible decisions to postpone both matches and events.”

The competition’s Eastern zone started last month but only nine games have been played so far as countries clamp down on travel to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Any outstanding group matches can be played in July, outside the official match dates. But they must be finished before August, when the two-legged round of 16 will take place.

There could be further disruption as games must be agreed by both teams and “other stakeholders” before they can go ahead.

Delegates for the West Asia clubs will hold talks this weekend in the United Arab Emirates. The West and East competitions are separate until the final.

Also this week, AFC will meet with world body Fifa to discuss this month’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers, which are facing similar problems.