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Politics force Persepolis of Iran, Saudi Arabia's Al Ahli to neutral venue

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Organisers of the Asian Champions League are preparing to play a quarterfinal in neutral venues because of diplomatic tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In a politically charged pairing drawn on Tuesday, Persepolis of Iran were drawn to host the first leg against Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia on Aug. 22. The return game is in mid-September.

The Asian Football Confederation ruled during the group stage that matches between teams from Iran and Saudi Arabia would be moved to neutral venues until there was a return to normal diplomatic relations between the two countries. Saudi Arabia broke off ties with Iran early in 2016.

"Now that the draw is made, our team can start working with the member associations to find out how big is the impact," the AFC's general secretary, Windsor John, said on Tuesday.

"Of course we lose the opportunity for the clubs to play at home, but these are decisions that are beyond our control. These are decisions that are made at a very high level, a governmental level," John said.

In the other western regional pairing, Saudi club Al Hilal will play last year's runnerup Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates

The semifinals are guaranteed to contain one Chinese and one Japanese club.

Two-time champion Guangzhou Evergrande were drawn against Shanghai SIPG, and 2007 winner Urawa Red Diamonds are paired with fellow J-League club Kawasaki Frontale.

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