Jan 23 (Reuters) – Iranian clubs Esteghlal and Shahr Khodro have agreed to play the home legs of their Asian Champions League preliminary round ties at neutral venues, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said on Thursday, averting reported threats of a boycott.
Shahr Khodro were scheduled to host Bahrain’s Riffa and Esteghlal were set to play Kuwait SC on Tuesday but both matches were postponed amid security concerns after several governments issued warnings against travelling to Iran.
The AFC said on Wednesday that the matches would be played in the United Arab Emirates on Jan. 25.
Local media, however, reported that the four Iranian clubs in the competition, including Persepolis and Sepahan, had said they would refuse to play if they could not host games in the country.
Yet the AFC said in a statement on Thursday that Shahr Khodro and Esteghlal had agreed for their matches to be switched to the UAE following discussions with club representatives in Kuala Lumpur.
The AFC added that home group-stage matches on matchday one, two and three involving Iranian clubs would be switched to away fixtures “to allow time to reassess the security concerns in the country”.
The fixture changes were implemented after Iranian forces shot down a Ukraine International Airlines jet in error on Jan. 8, killing all 176 on board amid tensions following the killing by the United States of prominent Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru Editing by Toby Davis)