UAE Football Federation (UAEFA) and Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) may have allowed their clubs to travel and host the Qatari clubs during their 2018 AFC Champions League campaign, but it may be quite an ordeal for all the participating teams.
Qatari club Al Gharafa, on their official twitter account, informed that they took 12 hours to reach Abu Dhabi to take part in their Group B clash against Al Jazira on Monday and a similar fate might await the UAE and Saudi teams when they travel for their away leg.
A weary Al Gharafa team checked into the capital’s Dusit Thani Hotel but were forced to cancel their scheduled training session later in the evening at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium to avoid further fatigue.
“We were supposed to leave Muscat airport at 2:30am for Abu Dhabi but due to weather conditions in the UAE, we couldn’t travel. As per the instructions of security, we stayed in the plane for about 45 minutes.
“Now we are at the airport and as you can see the players seem to be tired and God willing, we will leave Muscat for Abu Dhabi at 8am. That’s what we have been informed,” said Sa’ad Al Shammari, the head of the mission, in a video tweet from the Muscat International Airport.
Four teams have qualified for the AFC Champions League group stages from UAE (Al Ain, Al Wasl, Al Jazira and Al Wahda), while three teams (Al Sadd, Al Gharafa and Al Duhail) have qualified from Qatar. Saudi Arabia has two teams participating — Al Ahli and Al Hilal.
It’s since June last year that the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been involved in a diplomatic row with Qatar. The blockade includes a blanket ban on travel to and from Qatar — by land, sea or air.
The regional championship — Gulf Cup — that was scheduled to take place in Qatar in December was held in Kuwait after Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain had refused to participate at the original location.
Despite requests from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and a recommendation from their internally appointed panel, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) shot down the possibility of hosting the matches at neutral venues.
The decision has forced countries with estranged relations with Doha to play the matches on home-and-away basis, but there are no guidelines as far as the travel goes. It is also not clear if the fans applying for visas has been exempt from this blockade and will be given visas to travel.
With the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain imposing an embargo on direct flights to and from Doha, the teams are forced to fly to neutral countries like Oman and then take another flight to participate in their away matches.
Al Gharafa is the first club to travel to the UAE since the blockade and tomorrow’s contest will understandably draw a lot of attention.
Monday’s Fixtures (For UAE clubs)
Lokomotiv Tashkent vs Al Wahda (UAE), Lokomotiv Stadium, Tashkent 16:00
Al Jazira vs Al Gharafa, Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium (Abu Dhabi) 19:30
Tractor Sazi vs Al Ahli, Seeb Stadium 19:30.
By N.D. Prashant
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