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Football season looks for better days

By Aline Bannayan - Jan 29,2021 - Last updated at Jan 29,2021

AMMAN — The 2021 sporting agenda might seem less bleak compared to the past year when the world's championship schedules were disrupted amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, local and regional sports governing bodies have started to lay the groundwork for the upcoming season although uncertainty still looms and local teams fear their competitive chances are narrowed after a lacklustre season in 2020.

This week, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup held the draws for the leading competition — the AFC Champions League — as well as the AFC Cup, the second-tier Asian club competition.

The Champions League will involve 40 teams during the group stage, with an increase from the previous 32 teams. The group stage kicking off on April 14 will be played as a centralised double round-robin tournament, with the round of 16 and quarter-finals played as a single match.

The top team from each of the 10 groups and top three second placed teams moving on to the Round of 16. For the first time, a Jordanian team will join Round 1 of the AFC Champions League. Jordan Professional Football League (Pro League) champs Wihdat were drawn in tough Group D with Qatar's Sadd, Saudi Arabia's Nassr and a third qualifier either UAE's Ein or Iran's Foolad Khuzestan. 

"It is a very tough task, but not an impossible one," Wihdat coach Abdullah Abu Zam'eh told the local media. "We have our sights set on all local titles for the upcoming agenda," he added.

Last season, Faisali were eliminated by Kuwait Club in the preliminary round of the competition. Jordanian teams have never before made it past the ACL preliminary round. In the 2018 and 2019 editions, Faisali were knocked out, while Wihdat were knocked out in 2017, 2016 and 2015, and Shabab Urdun in 2014.

The 2021 AFC Cup Group Stage will see 39 clubs competing — an increase of three from 2019 — with a newly-introduced Group for the Central Zone. Due to the pandemic, the group stage will be played as centralised single round-robin tournament. The competition will also award the winning team a place in the preliminary stage of the 2022 AFC Champions League.

Jordanian teams in the AFC Cup draw will compete in Group B with Salt, playing for the first time, drawn to play Lebanon's Ansar, Palestine's Balata and Bahrain's Muharraq. Faisali will play in Group C with Syria's Tishreen, Oman's Seeb and a third qualifier from Palestine or Kuwait.

In 2020, Jordan's Faisali and Jazira, played in the 17th AFC Cup which was later cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, Jazira were close to winning the 2018/19 AFC Cup title, but failed to make it to the competition final after they lost the West Asia zone final to Lebanon's Ahed, who eventually won the title. Wihdat were eliminated in the semis of the West Asia zone.

Faisali won the AFC Cup in 2005 and 2006 and Shabab Urdun in 2007. Jordanian teams that participated in previous editions include Ramtha, Hussein, That Ras and Ahli. Kuwait Club and the Iraqi Air Force Club are AFC Cup record winners having been crowned champs three times each.

Governing bodies of Asian and world football also halted qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup. The national team is now on a training camp in Dubai as they prepare to resume the qualifiers.

Australia currently lead Group B, and Jordan shares second spot with matches remaining against, Kuwait, Nepal and Australia. The top team from each of the eight competing groups and four best second place finishers will move to the 2023 Asian Cup finals and Round 3 of World Cup qualifiers. Jordan beat Taiwan 5-0 and 2-1; lost 1-0 to Australia, held Kuwait 0-0 and beat Nepal 3-0.

The local agenda will start with the Jordan Football Association Shield on February 23, followed by the Cup Winners Cup on April 4, the Pro League on April 8, and the Jordan Cup round of 32 as of August 25.

The West Asia Football Federation agenda includes the postponed men's 10th Championship in the third half of the year, as well as the men's U-23 Championship, along with the qualifiers for the women's U-20 in August and the women's U-17 in September.


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