Melbourne into ACL qualifying playoff after Shan withdrawal

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(Reuters) - Australia's Melbourne City on Friday moved a step closer to the group stage of the Asian Champions League after their preliminary stage match against Shan United was cancelled following the Myanmar club's withdrawal from the competition.

Melbourne advance to a playoff against Japan's Cerezo Osaka, with the winner securing a spot in Group J of Asia's elite club competition alongside Thailand's Port FC, Guangzhou FC of China and Hong Kong's Kitchee.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Friday confirmed the withdrawal of Shan United due to the state of emergency in Myanmar.

More than 750 people have been killed by security forces in Myanmar since army generals unleashed lethal force in the face of sustained protests against their Feb. 1 coup, according to an activist monitoring group.

"The AFC Competitions Committee noted and acknowledged the challenges as well as the present complexities caused by the state of emergency in Myanmar and decided that the situation constituted an event of force majeure," the governing body said.

The Asian Champions League has been expanded from 32 to 40 teams for the 2021 edition.

Games in the group phase of the competition in the west of the continent have been played in a series of centralised hubs throughout April, with teams in the eastern half due to feature in a similar set-up in June and July.

(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)