The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has today (Thursday) announced host venues for the group stage of its 2021 Champions League after electing to centralise the tournament amid COVID-19.

The AFC in January said the group stages of the Champions League and AFC Cup club competitions would be held at centralised venues this season, completing plans for the two tournaments with today’s announcement.

After what it said was an “extensive feedback exercise” with its member associations, commercial partners and all relevant stakeholders, the AFC said the Champions League’s West Region matches, which are scheduled to take place between April 14-30, will see Saudi Arabia host Groups A and D in Riyadh as well as Group C in Jeddah.

The matches in Group B are to be staged in the United Arab Emirates city of Sharjah, while India, whose representative FC Goa is poised to mark the nation’s debut in Asia’s premier club competition, will host Group E.

In the East Region, the AFC has decided to postpone the group stage matches originally planned for April 21 – May 7 to June/July 2021, citing the existing travel restrictions and quarantine challenges posed by the pandemic.

Thailand will be the setting for the matches in the East Region Groups F, G and J, with the venues for Groups H and I, as well as the exact dates for all groups, to be decided at a later date. The preliminary and playoff matches for the East Region are also postponed and will be played in the centralised venues of their respective group stage matches.

As part of the bidding process, which was opened to all member associations, the AFC put a wide range of requirements in place to ensure adherence to the highest health and safety protocols and standards.

These include minimum travel and quarantine restrictions for away clubs, the convenience of flight connections and the medical situation in the host country, sufficient venues to organise the matches and mandatory COVID-19 tests to be organised for all players and officials, the costs of which will be borne by the AFC.

At the beginning of the month, plans for the AFC Cup were set out. The West Zone matches in Group A will be hosted in Manama, Bahrain. Group B and C clubs will head to Amman, Jordan. In the South Zone, the matches in Group D will be hosted in Male, Maldives.

Kyrgyzstan’s FC Dordoi will be the host club in Group E, with Dushanbe, Tajikistan providing the backdrop for the matches in Group F. In the ASEAN Zone, Singapore has been confirmed as the host for Group H and I, with Group G to be decided at a later date. Group J, featuring East Zone clubs, will be staged in Hong Kong.

Last year’s Champions League was suspended in early March due to COVID-19 but resumed in September as Qatar hosted the finale of the west zone tournament. Qatar later struck a deal to host the remainder of the eastern section of the competition.

Image: AFC