Sept 20 (Reuters) – Defending champions Al Hilal battled their way into the Asian Champions League knockout phase on Sunday with a 0-0 draw against Iran’s Shahr Khodro despite only have three substitutes available to them due to COVID-19 infections.

Al Hilal have 15 members of the squad affected by the coronavirus and needed permission from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to draft in replacement players for the Group B match on Sunday.

Their matchday squad consisted of just 14 players, with two of the replacements goalkeepers.

United Arab Emirates team Al-Wahda were forced to withdraw from Group A of the confederation’s premier club competition before it resumed last week in Doha after several players tested positive for the coronavirus.

The other two teams in Group B, Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor and Emirati club Shabab Al Ahili Dubai also battled to a 0-0 draw on Sunday, ensuring the group will not be decided until the final round of matches on Wednesday.

Pakhtakor have eight points and face the winless Shahr Khodro, while Shabab Al Ahili Dubai are in seven points and face Al Hilal on Wednesday.

The final qualifying spot in Group A will also be decided on Wednesday after Iraq’s Al Shorta and Iranian side Esteghlal, who both needed to win to join Saudi side Al Ahli in the final 16, drew 1-1.

The Iraqi side had two early chances thwarted by a superb save from goalkeeper Seyed Hossein Hosseini and then a clearance from defender Roozbeh Cheshmi before Mazin Fayyadh opened the scoring for Al Shorta in the 26th minute from a corner.

Esteghlal, however, put Al Shorta under enormous pressure in the second half and substitute Amir Arsalan Motahari equalised in the 68th minute.

Esteghlal must beat Al Ahli on Wednesday by two clear goals to advance to the last-16.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

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