September 23 (Reuters) – Defending Saudi Arabia champion Al Hilal was kicked out of the AFC Champions League after naming just 11 players for their last group game due to a string of positives COVID-19 in the team, AFC said on Wednesday.
Al Hilal’s official roster had just 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 advanced to the knockout stage with a goalless draw against Iran’s Shahr Khodro.
“Al Hilal … failed to name the 13 players required for their AFC Champions League Group B (West) match against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai,” the football governing body said continental in a press release.
“Under section 4.3 of the Special Rules Applicable to AFC Competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic, (Al Hilal) is deemed to have withdrawn from competition.”
As a result, all Al Hilal matches were deemed null and void, allowing Pakhtakor and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai to advance to the Round of 16.
AFC allows 35 players to enter the competition but Al Hilal has registered 30, of which only 27 made it to Doha.
Last week, UAE’s Al Wahda was also pulled from the competition after failing to arrive in Qatar for the remaining group matches as they were quarantined by UAE authorities after testing positive in the squad. .
The AFC Champions League, Asia’s elite club competition that was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resumed in central West Asia from Doha, Qatar last week and will resume in central East Asia from Malaysia on October 16. Report by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru edited by Toby Davis)