FAM ap­peal to AFC to play Asian Cup qual­i­fier on neu­tral ground

New Straits Times - - Front Page - RE­PORTS BY DEVIN­DER SINGH devin­der@nst.com.my

THE FA of Malaysia (FAM) are adamant the na­tional team will not play an Asian Cup qual­i­fier in Py­ongyang next month due to se­cu­rity fears in the East Asian re­gion af­ter lodg­ing an ap­peal to the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion (AFC).

AFC an­nounced on Mon­day that the match against North Korea, orig­i­nally sched­uled for March 28, would be played in Py­ongyang on June 8.

How­ever, FAM gen­eral sec­re­tary Datuk Hamidin Amin is hope­ful AFC will con­sider hav­ing the Group B qual­i­fier for the 2019 Asian Cup played on a neu­tral ground.

“We sent in the ap­peal to AFC yes­ter­day (Tues­day) evening,” said Hamidin in a text mes­sage from Manama, Bahrain where he is at­tend­ing the AFC Con­gress.

When asked what chance of FAM’s ap­peal suc­ceed­ing, Hamidin replied “Fifty­fifty.”

Diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween the Malaysia and North Korea were strained over the as­sas­si­na­tion of Kim Jong-Nam – the es­tranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un – at the Kuala Lumpur In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Fe­bru­ary.

Both coun­tries tem­po­rar­ily banned each other’s cit­i­zens from leav­ing and with­drew their am­bas­sadors but a travel ban to Py­ongyang was lifted in late March af­ter a deal was struck in­volv­ing the re­turn of Kim’s body to North Korea.

With travel re­stric­tions no longer in place, AFC de­cided the match, the first for both Malaysia and North Korea in Group B, will take place in Py­ongyang.

AFC sec­re­tary-gen­eral Datuk Wind­sor Paul John said AFC will look into the ap­peal but held out lit­tle hope that the de­ci­sion will be changed.

“FAM cited the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the re­gion” as the ba­sis of their ap­peal, Wind­sor said in a text toTime­s­port from Manama.

On Tues­day, Sports Min­is­ter Khairy Ja­malud­din re­ferred to ten­sions sur­round­ing the East Asian re­gion in want­ing as­sur­ance for the safety of the na­tional team in trav­el­ling to Py­ongyang.

Hamidin ear­lier ex­pressed a pref­er­ence for the match to be held on neu­tral ground but Wind­sor added that FAM have lit­tle jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in seek­ing a neu­tral venue with a travel ban no longer in place.

The travel is­sue aside, the na­tional team’s prepa­ra­tion has also been ham­strung by the ab­sence of a na­tional chief coach since the re­moval of Ong Kim Swee by new FAM pres­i­dent Tunku Is­mail Sul­tan Ibrahim.

With less than a month to go be­fore fac­ing North Korea, FAM are still in­ter­view­ing can­di­dates for the na­tional coach po­si­tion while former Kedah coach Tan Cheng Hoe is wait­ing for FAM to present him a con­tract be­fore tak­ing up his post as na­tional as­sis­tant coach.

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