0749 GMT February 26, 2020
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Thursday voted that Iranian clubs are eligible to host matches at the 2020 AFC Champions League (ACL) group stage.
The Asian football governing body, however, reconfirmed that two Iranian sides, Esteghlal and Shahr Khodro, will still have to play their preliminary fixtures in the UAE today.
Esteghlal was initially scheduled to take on Kuwait SC at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on January 21, with Shahr Khodro also set to host Bahraini side Al Riffa.
Following a meeting at the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, attended by the AFC Secretary General Dato’ Windsor John and Iranian clubs’ representatives, it was agreed that any of the Iranians’ home fixtures on the first three matchdays of the group phase “will be rescheduled to be played as away matches while the home matches will be swapped to matchday four, five and six,” the AFC’s statement read.
The AFC was convinced to overturn an initial decision as it had said last Monday that due to “security concerns” a final decision on Iranians hosting their final three matches in the group would be made in March – before the Matchday Four gets underway.
Iran’s Persepolis and Sepahan are already secured spots in Group C and Group D, respectively.
The AFC’s controversial move came after a Ukraine International Airlines airplane was accidentally brought down by Iranian forces on January 8 and all 176 onboard lost their lives amid tensions following the assassination of Iranian Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani by the US in Iraq on January 3.