(Adds quotes from Qatar Football Association)
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 9 (Reuters) - The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Friday said it has moved all remaining Asian Champions League games for East zone sides to Qatar from Malaysia due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The games, including remaining group matches, will now take place from Nov. 18 to Dec. 13 in Doha, which earlier this week saw the conclusion of West zone matches where Iran’s Persepolis advanced to the Dec. 19 final.
The AFC said Qatar won a reopened bidding process to host the matches. It said it had reopened bidding after rescheduling the East zone matches from October because of the complexity of the competition in the face of the pandemic.
East zone sides hail from China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Australia and Thailand.
“We are extremely grateful for the outstanding support of the QFA (Qatar Football Association),” AFC secretary general Dato Windsor John said in an earlier statement.
“We can now build on the success of the AFC Champions League (West) while looking forward to the remaining exciting matches in Asia’s premier club competition.”
The QFA said it carried out more than 7,900 COVID-19 tests which returned a positive rate of 1.7% during the West Zone tournament.
The local organisers said all team members and visitors will be tested upon arrival and throughout the tournament.
“We are very happy to provide a safe environment for the AFC in order to complete the AFC Champions League and look forward to hosting the leading clubs from the east of the region during November and December,” QFA general secretary Mansoor Al Ansari said in a statement.
Steve Corica, head coach of Sydney FC, one of three Australian teams in the competition, said with the arrangements set, his side could now look forward to the challenge.
“It’s pleasing to now know where we’ll be playing and when, and we’re looking forward to the trip providing we get the right bio-security clearances and approvals,” he said.
“We have unfinished business in Group H and the boys are really looking forward to getting stuck back in against the best in Asia.”
The Asian Champions League was suspended in March due to the pandemic. West zone games were moved to Qatar when playing resumed last month.
Despite stringent bio-security measures, several teams were affected by the novel coronavirus, with last year’s winners Al Hilal axed from the competition after they reached the knockout phase with a game to spare.
The Saudi side had 30 players and staff infected by COVID-19 and so were unable to field the minimum number of players required for their final group match. (Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Additional reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru and Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Christopher Cushing and Christian Radnedge)
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