The Forty-team Champions League will host group matches at a West Asian hub and an East Asian hub from mid-April amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has canceled several tournaments and announced centralized group stages for the Asian Champions League (ACL) and AFC Cup club tournaments as it continues to fight disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The newly enlarged 40-team Champions League, which took place in ‘bubble’ conditions in Qatar last year, will host group matches in a West Asian hub and an Asian hub in the Is from mid-April, the AFC said in a statement on Monday.
Western region matches, including clubs from the Middle East, will be played April 14-30. The Eastern region – comprising Australia, China, Japan and defending champion Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea – is scheduled from April 2 to May 7.
The 2021 competition schedule also reduces the pairs of round of 16 and quarter-finals to knockout matches in September instead of more than two innings.
The semi-finals and the final revert to two-match home and away matches in October and November – when travel restrictions are likely to have eased.
No venues have been announced for the matches as offers were accepted after the Champions League and AFC Cup group stage draw on Wednesday.
Last year’s edition ended entirely in Qatar with the resumption of later phases of groups delayed by the pandemic in September until the final in December.
The ACL was originally scheduled to start in February. Preliminary rounds now begin in April to qualify for a 40-team roster instead of 32.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are said to be interested in hosting matches. The Saudis and Qataris are also competing with India and Iran in a bid competition for the 2027 Asian Cup.
No more canceled tournaments
The AFC has also canceled or postponed four other continental tournaments which were due to take place in 2021.
The Men’s Under-16 and Under-19 Championships were canceled in Bahrain and Uzbekistan respectively. Both will host the next editions of the tournaments.
These decisions follow the cancellation by FIFA of the men’s Under-17 and Under-20 World Cup editions, which will take place in 2023.
This year’s Asian futsal and beach football championships are also being canceled. Kuwait and Thailand will retain hosting rights for 2022 and 2023, respectively.
The AFC Cup, a second tier club tournament only for developing countries, will take place in a shorter form, starting in May and ending in August.
The start of qualifying for the women’s Asian Cup Under-17 and Under-20 tournaments in 2022 has also been pushed back from March this year to August.
“We are grateful for the support of the hosts of these competitions who have agreed with the AFC [on] the need to safeguard the interests of all stakeholders during this time of uncertainty and to take into consideration the risks of the current pandemic, ”said AFC General Secretary Dato ‘Windsor John.