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Kuala Lumpur (AFP)
Saudi giants Al Hilal on Thursday accused the Asian football body of inflexibility after coronavirus-stricken title holders were kicked out of the AFC Champions League for not fielding enough players.
Al Hilal managed to send a team for the resumption of Asia’s flagship club tournament last week after a six-month hiatus, but 30 of their players and staff have now contracted the virus.
The team could name just 11 players for Wednesday’s group stage match in Doha against Shabab Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates, instead of the required 13, prompting the Asian Football Confederation to send them off.
Al Hilal, who had already qualified for the last 16, said he had done his best to stay in the tournament.
“The board … has sought to work on a number of methods that preserve Al Hilal’s right to participate in the tournament without any disorder,” they said in a statement.
“But all of these requests were rejected (despite) compelling circumstances that demand greater flexibility from the AFC.”
Al Hilal had suggested their match be postponed and also called for delaying the round of 16, which is due to start on Sunday.
They also offered to drop their match against Shabab Al Ahli, but not their place in the tournament.
Announcing the move, AFC said it had rejected the postponement request as it “would have a huge negative impact” on the match schedule.
Al Hilal faced Iran Shahr Khodro on Sunday after AFC refused to postpone the game.
According to AFC rules, Al Hilal was still able to play the game as 14 of his players were available, including two goalkeepers.
Al Wahda’s campaign also ended in the group stages due to Covid-19. The UAE side failed to make it to Qatar after several positive tests within its team.
© 2020 AFP