Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal draw to qualify from AFC group despite 15 coronavirus cases

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Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal SFC drew 0-0 with Iran’s Shahr Khodro in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League to qualify from their group on Sunday despite 15 of their players testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Saudi Arabian team, who are the reigning Asian champions, had reportedly asked the AFC to postpone the game after 10 players were infected on top of the existing five who had tested positive for COVID-19.

However, the match was forced to go ahead in Qatar’s al-Janoub stadium because the team met the required 14 players, including two goalkeepers, for a match to go ahead under AFC rules.

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Riyadh-based Al-Hilal managed to hold Shahr Khodro to a goalless draw despite mostly fielding reserves and missing star players.

The result meant that Al-Hilal stayed top of Group B and qualified for the knockout round after 11 points from five matches. With just one game remaining, they sit three points above Uzbek side Pakhtakor Tashkent FK and four points above the United Arab Emirates’ Shabab Al-Ahli.

Shahr Khodro, based in the Iranian city of Mashhad and previously known as Padideh Mashhad FC, have just one point and sit bottom of the group.

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“What the players have done so far in the exceptional circumstances that we are going through has been unbelievable,” Al-Hilal’s manager Razvan Lucescu said before the game.

“The absences we have will not stop our efforts to go as far as we can in the tournament as we try to defend our title,” the Romanian added. “We are remaining calm in these circumstances and are focused on getting the results we need — starting on Sunday.”

Other teams at the tournament, held in Qatar, have also reported coronavirus infections. One player from Qatar’s Al-Duhail has tested positive, while the UAE’s Al-Wahda had to withdraw from Group A after an outbreak meant the team was unable to travel.

With The Associated Press.

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