Poisoned fixture: Malaysia hope for neutral venue for North Korea qualifier

Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim

May 18 – Malaysia still hopes its postponed Asian Cup qualifier against North Korea can be played at a neutral venue despite an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) ruling to postpone the highly sensitive match yet again – this time until October.

The AFC has twice delayed the fixture from its original March 28 date, the latest time because of “geo-political tension on the Korean Peninsula”.

The game has now been delayed until October 5, with the AFC still to make a decision on whether it will be played in the North Korean capital or in a neutral venue.

“I think we are happy to postpone this game because of the overall situation and we will wait until October to have it settled,” Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) General Secretary Hamidin Mohd Amin told Reuters. “If we can get it back to a neutral venue then it’s better for both teams, and that’s ok. It’s better for both. Our position is that we will follow the AFC because the AFC handles the whole competition.”

The game was originally postponed due to tensions between the two nations in the aftermath of the killing of Kim Jong-nam, estranged elder half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport in late February.

FAM president Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim (pictured) last week questioned whether the safety of his players and officials could be guaranteed in North Korea and launched an appeal to the AFC, who are based in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

“I’m very concerned about the safety assurance regarding the accommodation provided and the food,” he posted on the FAM’s Facebook page at the time. “According to the information I have received we need to bring our own food due to the possibility of sabotage.”

Malaysia face forfeiting the game 3-0 if they refuse to play what is effectively their first fixture in the 2019 Asian Cup’s final round of qualifying.

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