KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The Asian Champions League could play a second season in centralized hub venues next year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the competition’s organizer said Friday.

The 2020 edition restarted this month after a pause since March with all western region games being played in Qatar. The 16-team eastern half should restart in November in venues to be decided.

Similar formats are being considered for the 2021 edition — which starts in January with qualifying rounds — to overcome travel limits making it hard for teams to compete.

“Centralized formats are definitely on the table,” Asian Football Confederation general secretary Windsor John said Friday.

The AFC was “left with no choice” but to use venue hubs this season, John said during an online panel at the Soccerex conference.

He cited closed borders and lack of flights across the continent adding to time pressure to complete the 2020 competition with traditional home-and-away series. The AFC’s target date for the final is Dec. 19.

The western section of the knockout rounds begins Saturday in Doha — without defending champion Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia which topped its group after playing five of its six games.

Al-Hilal was removed from the competition this week after so many players tested positive for COVID-19 it could not fulfil its last group-stage fixture.

A second team, Al-Wahda of the United Arab Emirates, did not travel to Qatar because of virus cases. The previous results of Al-Wahda and Al-Hilal were wiped from their group standings.

John also cast doubt on when fans could return to stadiums for international games organized by the AFC.

Told on the panel that North American soccer body CONCACAF planned for fans at its Gold Cup tournament next July, John said: “I wish I could say that.”


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