Al-Hilal, from Saudi Arabia, will not be able to defend the title in the Champions League of that continent due to this regulatory decision but did not contemplate the pandemic.
Soccer has been conditioned in every detail by the coronavirus pandemic. Since play without an audience Even testing the players, going through details that seem minor (but are not), such as cleaning the balls, each situation is marked by Covid-19. Sure what happened to Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia in the Asian Champions League it was unusual.
The defending champion was disqualified from the competition by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) this Wednesday, because could not present at least 13 players for the match to be played against Shabab Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha (Qatar) for the last date of Group B of the competition.
What happened? The pandemic passed: Most of the Saudi team and its coaching staff contracted Covid-19. With the endowment greatly reduced, Al-Hilal was only in a position to present 11 footballers, so he requested a postponement of the duel, in which little was played, since He had already secured his ticket to the round of 16, but the AFC denied it.
The mother house of Asian football complied with the provisions of article 4.3 of the special rules that were set for the development of this tournament, whose group phase had begun in February, had been suspended after the dispute of the first two dates due to to the pandemic and partially restarted (only four of the eight groups) last week, with Qatar as the sole venue.
In that article it was stipulated that if for any reason a team is not in a position to present at least 13 players (including a goalkeeper) for a match, they will not be able to play it and it will be considered that they have abandoned the competition.
In that same article it is stated that a duel may be postponed “in exceptional circumstances and provided that any rescheduling does not affect the match schedule.” To this the leadership of Al-Hilal clung. However, the Covid-19 Subcommittee of the Champions League assessed that “A postponement would have a great negative impact on the calendar”, as explained by the AFC in a statement posted on its website.
The dispute between the Saudis and the governing body of Asian football had started a few days ago, when the club, which at that time had 15 players and six members of the coaching staff affected by Covid-19, had asked for the postponement of the match of the last date before the Iranian Shahr Khodro.
The AFC had denied the request, claiming that Al-Hilal had 14 players available, one more than the minimum set by the regulations. With those 14 (several of them youth), the group led by the Romanian Razvan Lucescu he had tied 0-0 and thus had secured his place in the round of 16, in his quest to defend the title he won in 2019.
But it will no longer be able to do so, due to the decision of this Wednesday by the AFC, which to strengthen its position explained that the competition regulations allowed each club to register 35 players, but that Al-Hilal had presented a list with 30, of which only 27 traveled to Qatar for the restart of the contest.
Once the first cases of contagion were detected, the AFC endorsed the replacement of two archers who had contracted Covid-19 with two others that were not on the list. The goalkeepers moved to Doha along with two other players who were on the payroll and had not initially traveled.
But all this was not enough, since the contagion network reduced the squad to prevent the Saudi team from presenting this Wednesday. Their disqualification favored Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor and Emirati Shabab Al Ahli, who advanced to the round of 16.
Al-Hilal was not the only club to be hit to the limit by the pandemic. Emirati Al-Wahda was disqualified on Monday last week because his squad could not travel to Doha because 19 players were serving quarantine in Abu Dhabi after contracting the virus.