The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) confirmed on Saturday that the 2018 AFC Champions League matches between Saudi, Emirati and Qatari teams will be played on a home and away format, instead of at neutral venues.
The decision comes after a petition from Saudi Arabia to have all matches against Qatar contested on neutral ground.
“AFC Champions League matches involving clubs from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should be played on a home and away basis in 2018 as per the AFC regulations,” the AFC published on its website.
Safety and security reasons
بيان الاتحاد الآسيوي الذي صدر قبل قليل بشكل رسمي : pic.twitter.com/cZlUvqZFU4— خالد غادن 🇸🇦 (@kaghaden) 27 January 2018
In June of last year four Arab nations – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – broke off diplomatic ties with Qatar, claiming that the peninsular state supports terrorism and meddles in the affairs of other countries.
The cut-off in relations included withdrawing ambassadors and imposing trade and travel bans.
A statement published on Saturday by the AFC claimed that the decision on playing home-away matches followed an independent safety and security assessment.
“At the same time a specialist international risk agency was asked to provide an independent and impartial assessment on the safety and security of the countries involved and the impact on the AFC competitions - particularly the home and away format,” the AFC stated.
Saudi and UAE Federations surprised by decision
Immediately after the AFC announced its decision, the UAE and Saudi Football Federations sent out press releases.
Despite rumours suggesting Saudi Arabia and UAE could pull out of the AFC Champions League, both Federations confirmed their compliance with the decision.
For the 2018 AFC Champions League, Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal have been placed with Qatar’s Al Rayyan in Group D.
Qatar’s Al Sadd share Group C with UAE’s Al Wasl, while Al Dubhail are also pitted with an Emirati team, Al Wahda.