Avazbek Berdikulov, Deputy Director of the Competitions and Football Events Division at the AFC (R), and other officials at yesterday’s press conference at the Al Janoub Stadium.
A total of 13 club teams have arrived in Doha for the three-week Asian Champions League football fiesta to be held at various stadiums in Qatar starting tomorrow.
They will be joined by top Qatar sides Al Duhail and Al Sadd as the continental championship resumes after it was stopped in its tracks by the coronavirus pandemic in early March.
Only two rounds were played until then, but with the virus situation improving and Qatar agreeing to host the remaining West Asian matches right until the semi-final on October 3, the tournament will now go ahead much to the relief of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Avazbek Berdikulov, Deputy Director of the Competitions and Football Events Division at the AFC, said yesterday that all preparations have been completed for the tournament which will be held in a bio-secure environment.
“On behalf of the AFC, we are here to host the four-group competitions for the West Asia region,” Berdikulov said at a press conference held yesterday at Al Janoub Stadium, one of the venues for the tournament.
“The competition was stopped for reasons that everyone knows, because of the coronavirus, but after fruitful negotiations with the clubs and decision-makers in Doha, it is our pleasure to be among you again,” Berdikulov added.
The tournament will be played without fans, Berdikulov added, because the threat of the virus still exists. However, he added that the possibility of fans being allowed for the semi-finals and final will be decided later, depending on the situation then.
Berdikulov asserted that everyone will feel comfortable with the many services and facilities that Qatar is providing.
“When it comes to organization and infrastructure, Qatar’s record cannot be questioned. Qatar has organized large competitions before and their record is excellent. Our cooperation with Qatar therefore continues.”
He added that one of the reasons the AFC chose Qatar was because of its excellent facilities and strict health protocols.
“I take this opportunity to thank Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) for its efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus,” he said.
“When we decided the dates and opened the bid, Qatar’s proposal was the best. No other country came forward to host all the four groups in West Asia. We know that Qatar has the best infrastructure and we are happy to host the event here.”
Dr Abdel Wahab al-Musleh, Senior Consultant to the Minister of Public Health, said Qatar has taken every measure possible to ensure a smooth tournament.
“We have put in place medical services and precautionary measures in accordance with AFC regulations. These include designated 24x7 clinics at all hotels, complete medical coverage at stadiums and mobile teams to serve people inside the venues,” he said.
In keeping Qatar’s health protocols, all players and officials participating in the tournament were required to undergo Covid-19 testing before their departure from their respective countries and again upon their arrival in Qatar, with subsequent tests will be conducted every three to six days.
“The teams are in a secure environment,” Dr al-Musleh said. “No visitors or guests are allowed at their hotels. They will have no contact with the outside community as we will be following the ‘bubble-to-bubble’ concept. More than 1,000 coronavirus tests have been conducted so far.”
Dr al-Musleh added that these special arrangements were launched a long time ago based on the protocols of the Ministry of Public Health and they were sent to the teams and officials before they arrived for the tournament. The doctor also stated that all stadiums are equipped with medical clinics, and media representatives will have access to them in the event that they develop symptoms, and that drinks and food will not be allowed inside the stadiums.
Qatar Football Association’s Ali Salat, who was also present at the press conference, said: “We are happy to host the AFC Champions League matches for the West Asian region in view of Qatar’s position as a global destination for sports.”
He said that the tournament will be the largest international football tournament since the World Cup in Russia 2018, as the competitions are scheduled to witness 39 matches over four stadiums over a period of 20 days.
“Because of the circumstances imposed by the pandemic, the tournament confirms the ability of football to unite people after the epidemic while Qatar looks to a better future that brings everyone together again,” said Salat.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Esteghlal FC were the first to arrive in Qatar. They compete in Group A alongside Iraq’s Al Shorta and Al Ahli Saudi FC.
Inaugural AFC Champions League winners Al Ain FC became the last of the 13 teams to arrive, touching down at Hamad International Airport in the late hours of Friday night, to compete in Group D alongside Sepahan FC, Al Nassr FC and Al Sadd.
Group B sees reigning champions Al Hilal SFC pitted against UAE’s Shabab Al Ahli Dubai FC in addition to Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor FC and Iran’s Shahr Khodro FC.
Iran Pro League champions Persepolis play against Sharjah, Al Duhail and Al Taawoun in Group C.
UAE Pro League side Al Wahda FSCC, drawn in Group A, had informed the AFC that they are unable to travel to Qatar for the competition after several members of the club tested positive for Covid-19.
The centralized West Zone fixtures will take place across four air-conditioned venues — Khalifa International Stadium, Al Janoub Stadium, Education City Stadium and Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium.
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2021