AFC Champions League holders expelled after Covid-19 outbreak

The AFC Champions League logo (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images)

Reigning champions Al Hilal have been removed from the AFC Champions League after naming a line-up with only nine outfield players due to a Covid-19 outbreak.

The Saudi Arabian side failed to name the required 13 players for their AFC Champions League (West) Group B match against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, of the United Arab Emirates.

Under Article 4.3 of the special rules applicable to AFC Competitions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the team was deemed to have withdrawn from the competition, the AFC said in a press release.

A Covid-19 outbreak affecting 15 Al Hilal players meant the team had only eight virus-free outfield players for Wednesday’s match against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai. Al Hilal named two goalkeepers on the bench but could not fulfil the minimum squad requirement of 13 players.

The ruling means all matches played by Al Hilal are  considered null and void and therefore Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai have progressed to the Round of 16 from Group B.

Al Hilal and the Saudi Arabian federation requested a postponement of the match against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, but the AFC rejected it, deciding that it would have negatively impacted the match schedule of the AFC Champions League (West).

Earlier this month, Abu Dhabi-based club Al Wahda withdrew from the competition due to positive Covid-19 tests, which prevented the squad travelling to Qatar.