Soccer-Al Hilal kicked out of Champions League after naming 11-man squad due to COVID-19

Sept 23 (Reuters) - Defending champions Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia have been kicked out of the AFC Champions League after naming only 11 players for their final group match due to a raft of COVID-19 positives in the squad, the AFC said on Wednesday.

Al Hilal’s official lineup had only nine players and two goalkeepers as substitutes after 15 members of the squad tested positive last week.

The club had three substitutes on Sunday when they qualified for the knockout stage with a goalless draw against Iran’s Shahr Khodro.

“Al Hilal... failed to name the required 13 players for their AFC Champions League (West) Group B match against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai,” the continental soccer governing body said in a statement.

“Under the Article 4.3 of the special rules applicable to AFC competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic, (Al Hilal) are deemed to have withdrawn from the competition.”

As a result, all of Al Hilal’s matches have been considered null and void, allowing Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai to progress to the last-16.

The AFC allows 35 players to be registered for the competition but Al Hilal registered 30, of which only 27 travelled to Doha.

Last week, United Arab Emirates’ Al Wahda were also withdrawn from the competition after they failed to arrive in Qatar for their remaining group matches because they were put in quarantine by UAE authorities after positive tests in the squad.

The AFC Champions League, Asia’s elite club competition which was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resumed in the West Asia hub of Doha, Qatar last week and will resume in the East Asia hub of Malaysia on Oct. 16. (Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru Editing by Toby Davis)