Why it's time to forget the 2020 AFC Champions League


It is understandable that the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is doing all it can to finish the 2020 Champions League, but the best option is to scrap this year’s edition and start again in 2021.

The coronavirus has, as we all know, wreaked havoc on all walks of life and football has not been any exception.

UEFA is keen to get its flagship club event done and dusted ASAP as the Europeans are at the pointy end of the tournament.

Meanwhile, the 32 teams in Asia barely got going, with teams in the east playing two, one or sometimes no games at all.

A lot of work has been done to try and get it all sorted. Group games were initially pushed back to June and then later in the northern summer.

Now, the eastern half at least, has been scheduled to play the remaining four, five or six games in the second half of October when the continent would usually be preparing for the final.

These will take place in centralised ‘hubs’ yet to be announced.

Each group will stay in one place and play each other until it is finished. The knockout stages will be one game instead of two and that, so officials hope, will mean that there will be a champion by the end of the year.

It is hard to see it happening for a number of reasons.

The first is time. East Asian leagues are just getting started again (China will finally kick off its season on July 25, five months after the initial date) and are trying to squeeze a whole lot of games into a short period.

The A-League is in a slightly different situation but if all goes perfectly, the current season will be over soon.

Then it will be time to look ahead to the new campaign despite the revised schedule forcing Perth Glory to play five Champions League games in the space of 15 days at an unknown destination.

Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC would each have four to play.

It looks very difficult and that is before 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers are taken into account, though how these will work has yet to be decided.

The Socceroos are set for four second round games in October and November.

There is the prospect of the domestic league, Champions League and World Cup qualifiers all going on at the same time and all in different countries which, given the current situation, is unimaginable.

Australia are in a very strong position in terms of getting to the third round but others are not.

China, who have been struggling in qualification, like to stop the league for a number of weeks to prepare for such big games.

Something will have to give and the Champions League is the likeliest option.

As well as the chaos in terms of fixtures, there is a bigger problem: where to play the games.

It is one thing to get an undertaking to finish the tournament in online video calls but as much as federations, sponsors and clubs may wish it, other priorities will come first.

Countries that still have many coronavirus cases will be out of the question. Countries that have dealt well and worked hard to contain the disease, such as South Korea, will be reluctant to put that at risk.

The issue of infections coming from overseas has been a big issue in parts of Asia and a source of anger among the local population.

China has said this week that it will not be hosting any international sporting events this year that are not connected to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Persuading countries to take a risk for a tournament that is not seen as a major part of the sporting calendar at the best of times will not be easy.

Some nations have closed their borders and there would be, at the very least, strict quarantine procedures elsewhere.

Players having to stay in hotels for two weeks to then restart the group stage - over a month in total, including travel - just does not seem possible when added to the possibility of World Cup qualifiers and domestic leagues going ahead at the same time.

Better to forget 2020 and allow the same teams to start preparing for 2021.

It is not fair for those that have already qualified for next year (though many have not given how domestic seasons have been hit) but there are a lot of things about coronavirus that are not fair.

Another benefit about having the same teams already in place in 2021 is that the AFC would not have to worry about 2020 domestic seasons not finishing.

It’s time to forget the 2020 AFC Champions League.

Finishing it is looking increasingly like Mission Impossible and even Tom Cruise would not accept this challenge.