Saudi football teams told to play in Qatar
KUALA LUMPUR – Agence France-Presse
Saudi Arabian football teams will be required to play away matches in Qatar during the Asian Champions League despite the kingdom’s travel ban on its Gulf neighbor, Asia’s football governing body said yesterday.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) ruled all matches would be played on a home-and-away basis as planned, after Saudi Arabia had called for fixtures against Qatari teams to be shifted to a neutral country.
The ruling also means Saudi clubs must host Qatari teams for the return, home fixtures.
Since June last year Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, has adopted a diplomatic boycott of Qatar, accusing it of backing terrorism -- a charge denied by Doha.
The Saudi-led coalition also imposed a ban on travel in and out of Qatar.
AFC said the decision to maintain the home-and-away format was made after an independent safety and security assessment was completed.
Saudi authorities previously insisted that their clubs would only play against Qatari sides on neutral territory amid reports they may boycott the tournament.
With the AFC ruling that “clubs from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should be played on a home and away basis in 2018 as per the AFC Regulations,” Saudi club football teams are due to travel to Qatar for away matches beginning next month.
AFC Secretary General Windsor John told AFP that Saudi Arabia has not lifted the travel ban imposed on its nationals against going to Qatar.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal has been placed with Qatar’s Al Rayyan in Group D of the AFC Champions League beginning Feb. 12.
Qatar’s Al Sadd is in Group C along with the UAE’s Al Wasl, while in Group B Qatar’s Al Duhail is pitted against the UAE’s Al Wahda.
The AFC Asian Champions League is the top continental competition for football clubs in Asia.
Qatar is due to host the World Cup in 2022.