SINGAPORE: The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Wednesday (Jul 7) announced that the centralised ASEAN Zone matches of the 2021 AFC Cup have been cancelled due to the "challenges" amid the COVID-19 pandemic in finding a "suitable host".
Groups G, H and I and the playoff stage are affected.
Singapore had been due to host fixtures in Groups H and I, but the Football Association of Singapore said in May it would withdraw as host, citing the “the erratic COVID-19 situation regionally”.
The Singapore sides in the tournament were the Lion City Sailors and Geylang International.
Lion City Sailors were drawn in Group H with Saigon FC of Vietnam, Persipura Jayapura of Indonesia and Kedah Darul Aman of Malaysia, while Geylang had been scheduled to play Malaysia’s Terengganu FC, Cambodia’s Visakha FC and Timor-Leste’s Lalenok United FC in Group I.
“As part of the AFC’s commitment to complete the AFC Cup 2021 ... the matches and groups of the AFC Cup 2021 across the remaining zones will continue to maintain the overall structure of the competition giving due consideration to the existing format as well as the availability of centralised hosts in each zone," the AFC said in a statement on its website on Wednesday.
"Therefore, the AFC Cup knockout stage Central, West and Inter Zone single-leg ties will continue to be staged as planned."
The Central Zonal final between FC Nasaf of Uzbekistan and FC Ahal of Turkmenistan is scheduled to take place on Aug 25 in Karshi, Uzbekistan. The West Zonal semi-final matches featuring clubs from Bahrain, Lebanon, Kuwait and Jordan will take place on Sep 20 and Sep 21.
The AFC said that efforts are ongoing to confirm a centralised host for South Zone matches.
The AFC Cup knockout stage draw has been postponed "tentatively" from Wednesday to Aug 4, the AFC added.
With the ASEAN Zone AFC Cup matches cancelled, Geylang head coach Noor Ali said that the club would turn its focus to the Singapore Premier League.
“We are obviously disappointed we will not have the chance to compete in the AFC Cup again as this would have been our return to the competition for the first time since 2010,” Noor Ali said in a press release.
“However, we understand the challenges the AFC faces amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and recognise the health and safety of everyone is of utmost importance. We will now focus on getting the results domestically on the Singapore Premier League and hopefully regain our place on the continental stage again.”
Held annually, the AFC Cup is Asia's second-tier club football competition. The 2020 tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.