Kuala Lumpur – Asia’s soccer body is “confident” of completing its coronavirus-hit Champions League this year, a senior official told AFP on Friday, as it heads into a frantic period of games with some venues still unknown.
The region’s showpiece tournament has been on hold since March, creating a heavy backlog before West Asia group games resume in Qatar on Sept. 14.
Two of the East Asia groups will be played from Oct. 16 in Malaysia, but no host has been announced for the two remaining pools or the knockout stages for the Eastern clubs.
Only two rounds of games were possible before the shutdown, and teams from China have played no matches at all. But Asian Football Confederation general secretary Windsor John said everything will be completed before the year’s end.
“We remain committed and confident of completing the competition within the 2020 calendar year,” he said.
John said more details on East Zone matches would be announced after an AFC executive meeting next week. The competition’s single-legged final is scheduled for Dec. 5.
The pandemic continues to spread worldwide and several countries in Asia are battling serious outbreaks. But John said he believes the Champions League can restart safely.
“We have engaged with our medical experts to establish several guidelines taking reference the industry’s best practices to minimize the risks,” he said.
A biosecure “bubble” has been put in place for the resumption of matches in Qatar, similar to one implemented for the UEFA Champions League.
Under the arrangement in Lisbon, players and officials were subject to strict rules. These included having to undergo virus tests, and only being allowed to leave their hotels with prior agreement.
Asked if Asian soccer will continue to be disrupted even into next year, John said the AFC was working on the 2021 calendar, but that safety was paramount.
“The safety of our teams, players, officials, broadcast partners and stakeholders will always remain the highest priority, and we will not hesitate to make difficult decisions if necessary,” he said.
“Our commitment remains focused on completing our competitions as much as possible and the safe resumption of Asian football.”
John also played down concerns over the introduction of VAR, which is due to be used from the quarterfinals of this year’s Champions League for the first time.
Video assistant referees have been used in competitions worldwide from the Premier League to the 2018 World Cup, but their decisions have often sparked controversy.
John said VAR had already been used in Asian tournaments, including the 2019 Asian Cup, and that officials had been trained to use the technology.
“The AFC has a proven track record in the implementation of the VAR system,” he said.
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