The Asian Football Confederation has confirmed that the 2018 AFC Champions League matches between Emirati, Saudi and Qatari clubs will be played on a home and away format, rather than on neutral grounds. This move comes after the GCC crisis which has led to increased tensions between the nations over the last 6 months.
The UAE and Saudi Arabian Federations immediately sent out press releases regarding the situation, with the UAEFA expressing their “surprise” at the AFC’s decision to reject the use of neutral stadiums after “the committee visited the UAEFA and accepted all requests sent out by the UAEFA”. The UAEFA accepted to play in the competition, after it was rumoured that they would pull out of the competition in the case of no neutral stadiums.
The Saudi FF followed with a similar message about their surprise, but inevitably, both parties confirmed their compliance with the decision despite their worry about the safety of players in Qatar. The official statement from AFC is shown below:
بيان الاتحاد الآسيوي الذي صدر قبل قليل بشكل رسمي : pic.twitter.com/cZlUvqZFU4— خالد غادن 🇸🇦 (@kaghaden) 27 January 2018
How this will affect the attendance of fans in between the countries and relations between clubs is yet to be seen, but the unprecedented decision leaves plenty of questions unanswered, and only time will tell if this decision proves to be successful.
It is worth noting that the Saudi and Iranian clubs already play matches between each other due to the extreme political tensions that surround the nations.