1047 GMT June 23, 2021
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is considering neutral venues for the last-16 and quarterfinal rounds of the AFC Champions League (ACL), according to Saudi newspaper Al Eqtisadiah.
The next two knockout rounds of the Asia’s elite club competition will be played in September, ISNA reported.
Though the AFC had announced the knockout phase will be held through single-legged fixtures, the Saudi paper, citing a source familiar with the matter, wrote, “The AFC is still undecided over the remainder of the Champions League due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Al Eqtisadiah added that “two-legged ties or a centralized format in a neutral country” are still on the cards for the AFC.
The report said that Saudi Arabia, which will be represented by Al Hilal and Al Nassr in the round of 16, is ready to host all remaining games in the West Zone of the competition.
The final day of the group stage in the West saw Persian Gulf Pro League sides Esteghlal and Tractor join Persepolis in advancing to the next round.
Esteghlal beat Iraq’s Al Shorta 1-0 – courtesy of a first-half Cheick Diabate’s spot-kick – in Jeddah on Friday as the Tehran-based Blues won Group C with 11 points.
Tractor, the only team to go a whole group campaign without a defeat, was a guaranteed a place in the next round as one the best three runners-up after Al Hilal suffered a shock 2-0 defeat against the UAE’s Shabab Al Ahli.
Persepolis, having secured a last-16 spot with one game to spare, eased to a 4-2 victory over Qatar’s Al Rayyan on Thursday to win Group E with 15 points – the highest tally in the West Zone groups.
The round of 16 will see Esteghlal and Tractor square off against Al Hilal and Al Nassr respectively, while the Iranian Reds will take on Istiklol of Tajikistan, the surprise package at this year’s competition which finished above Al Hilal in Group A.
Sharjah and Al Wahda will also go head-to-head in an all Emirati tie.
Should the AFC confirm the single-legged ties in different countries, Esteghlal and Tractor will host their opponents, with Persepolis having to fly to Tajikistan.