• AFP-JIJI

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The Asian Champions League pushed back the start of its East zone knock-out rounds on Monday after the competition was severely disrupted by the spread of COVID-19.

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 competition as it struggles to accommodate a number 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 general Windsor John said in a statement, after emergency talks in Kuala Lumpur.

“The 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 East zone started last month but only nine games have been played so far as countries clamp down on travel to curb the spread of the virus.

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 both teams and “other stakeholders” must agree before games can go ahead.

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

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