Qatar has solidified its position as a hub for the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Champions League during COVID-19 by securing a deal to host the remainder of the eastern section of the club competition’s 2020 edition.

The 2020 season of the Champions League, the AFC’s flagship club tournament, was suspended in early March due to the global pandemic but resumed on September 14 as Qatar played host to the finale of the West Zone tournament.

This concluded on October 3 as Persepolis of Iran beat Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia on penalties in Doha to qualify as the western representative for the final. Under an agreement announced today (Friday) between the AFC and Qatar Football Association (QFA), the East Zone tournament will be played from November 18 to December 13 in Doha.

The Champions League (East) will resume from the group stage and continue through the Round of 16 to the quarter-finals and semi-finals. The venue for the final, which is scheduled to be played on December 19, is yet to be decided.

Dato’ Windsor John, AFC general secretary, said: “We recognise the huge amount of work undertaken by the QFA, in conjunction with the AFC, the Qatar Local Authorities and Ministries, to ensure the smooth delivery of the AFC Champions League (West) and we look forward to a similarly positive collaboration for the AFC Champions League (East).

“Everything from the arrival of the teams, the efficient immigration process, the rigorous health screenings, hotels with biosecurity measures, to the state-of-the-art training facilities and stadiums were of the highest possible standard as the AFC insisted that the welfare and well-being of the players, officials and match officials was our top priority.

“Through the planning and delivery of these extremely strict and effective protocols, I am delighted that we will be able to successfully complete the AFC Champions League, despite the enormous challenges in this unprecedented year, as we promised all our stakeholders.”

Qatar has landed the hosting rights as preparations continue for its staging of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Qatar 2022 chief executive Nasser Al Khater this week revealed that construction work on projects for the World Cup is nearing 90% completion, with focus beginning to turn to planning and fan experience for the national team tournament.

Commenting on the Champions League agreement, QFA secretary general Mansoor Alansari said: “Qatar knows how important football is to Asia so is pleased to be able to offer the world-class sporting infrastructure and operational and health and safety expertise that exists in the country to allow for the resumption of competitive continental football once again.”

The knockout rounds of the West Zone tournament began without defending champion Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia, which was removed from the event after so many of its players tested positive for COVID-19 that it could not play its final group-stage game. Al-Wahda of the United Arab Emirates also failed to travel to Qatar because of COVID-19 cases.

The East Zone tournament will comprise four teams apiece from China and South Korea, three each from Australia and Japan, and one apiece from Malaysia and Thailand.

Image: AFC