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World Cup schedule forces Asian Champions League final switch

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HONG KONG, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The 2022 Asian Champions League final will be played on a home-and-away basis in February next year to accommodate the involvement of the continent's teams in the World Cup, the Asian Football Confederation has announced.

Qatar's hosting of the World Cup finals in November and December means the Asia Champions League's usual slot in the schedule is unavailable.

Pandemic travel restrictions across the region have also prompted the shift into early 2023.

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"Asian teams who are likely to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 are expected to put in place extensive preparation plans for the competition," the AFC said in a statement.

"A need was felt to facilitate such tune-ups in the face of the uncertain situation and unforeseen risks."

The Asian Champions League has been severely disrupted by the pandemic, with the 2020 edition moved to Qatar following the COVID-19 outbreak while much of the 2021 competition was held in a series of biosecure hubs across Asia.

The 2022 competition will again see the group phase played in centralised hubs, with matches featuring teams from the west held from April 7 to 27 while games in the east will run from April 15 to May 1.

The Round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals for east Asia will be played in a single venue from Aug. 18 to 25 while western teams will hold their knockout round matches from Feb. 3 to Feb. 10 next year.

The final will revert to a two-legged affair for the first time since 2019, with the team qualifying from the western region hosting the opening leg on Feb. 19 with the return in east Asia seven days later.

Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal are the defending champions after winning a record fourth title in November when they defeated South Korea's Pohang Steelers.

The draw for the 2022 edition will be held in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.

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Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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