AFC moves Champions League matches out of Iran to the UAE

Matches scheduled to be hosted by Iranian two sides on Tuesday against Bahrain's Riffa and have been postponed and will be moved to the UAE after several governments issuing travel warnings for Iran

A poster shows late Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and late Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, as Iranian worshippers chant slogans during the Friday prayers sermon led by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tehran, Iran January 17, 2020. Reuters
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The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has confirmed two preliminary round matches scheduled to take place in Iran will be moved to the UAE due to ongoing security concerns in the country.

Matches scheduled to be hosted by Iranian sides Shahr Khodro and Esteghlal on Tuesday against Bahrain's Riffa and Kuwait SC respectively have been postponed and will be moved to the UAE after several governments issuing travel warnings for Iran.

"To help facilitate the switch to neutral venues, which has been approved by the relevant AFC committees, the AFC will now reschedule the games to January 25, 2020 in the United Arab Emirates," the AFC said in a statement.

Local media reported that the four Iranian clubs in the competition, including Persepolis and Sepahan, had said they would refuse to play if they cannot host games in the country.

The move by Asian football's governing body comes after Iranian forces shot down a Ukraine International Airlines jet in error on January 8, killing all 176 onboard amid tensions following the assassination by the United States of prominent general Qassem Suleimani.

Playing matches in neutral venues is nothing new when it comes to Asian football's premier club competition.

Since 2016, matches between clubs from Iran and Saudi Arabia have all been played outside of those countries due to concerns raised by the Saudis over safety issues when travelling to Iran.

As is the case now, Iranian clubs threatened to boycott the competition, before relenting and staging matches in in Oman and, until a Saudi-led diplomatic dispute in June 2017, Qatar.

While they are among the best supported clubs in Asia, no Iranian side has won the Asian Champions League since it was created in 2002, with Tehran-based Persepolis's runner-up finish in 2018 representing the country's best finish.

Persepolis have been drawn to meet Al Duhail from Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s Al Taawon and UAE champions Sharjah in the group phase of this year's competition, which, unlike it's more lucrative cousin the Uefa Champions League, is held in a calendar year rather than across a season.

Sepahan are slated to meet Saudi champions Al Nassr, Qatar’s Al Sadd and a qualifier from the play-offs.