KUALA LUMPUR – The 2019 Asia Cup final round qualifier between North Korea and Malaysia scheduled for March 28 in Pyongyang has been postponed to a later date.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in a statement today said a new date for the match will be announced in due course.
“AFC’s Competitions Committee took the decision to postpone the tie following the escalating diplomatic tensions between the Governments of North Korea and Malaysia,” said AFC in its official website, www.the-afc.com.
The Harimau Malaysia squad led by Datuk Ong Kim Swee was originally scheduled to face North Korea in the Group B opening match for the qualifying at the Kim Il-sung Stadium in the country’s capital, Pyongyang.
However, due to diplomatic tensions following the murder of the North Korean leader’s estranged half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, at the Kuala Lumupur International Airport 2 (klia2) on Feb 13, the government had prohibited Harimau Malaysia from playing in that country due to security reasons.
Following that, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) on Monday had requested AFC to change the venue to a neutral ground.
The situation worsened on Tuesday when the Malaysian government also banned North Koreans in Malaysia from leaving the country, after North Korea barred 11 Malaysians from leaving that country.
The request for a neutral ground is not something new in football as= countries such as Israel, Palestine, Syria and Saudi Arabia have played at neutral venues for certain reasons.
Meanwhile, FAM secretary-general Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin welcomed the decision saying it was the right move in the interest of the safety and security of the players and officials.
“On the new date and venue, FAM leaves it to the AFC to decide and we will cooperate fully on the matter,” he said.
He added that the international friendly between Malaysia and the Phlippines on March 22 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila would go on as scheduled as it was a good opportunity for Malaysia to improve on its world ranking (Malaysia are currently ranked 161st). – BERNAMA