FOOTBALL Association of Malaysia (FAM) are reluctant to send their players to North Korea for next month’s rescheduled AFC 2019 Asian Cup qualifier because of fears of “sabotage”, despite clearance from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
The Asian body ruled this week that the June 8 match will go ahead in Pyongyang after confirmation from Malaysian authorities that no government restrictions were in place.
But the Crown Prince of Johor (TMJ), who is FAM president, expressed his grave concerns about the team’s safety if they travel to the Republic.
“I am hesitant to release them at this point of time. But if we don’t allow them to go to Pyongyang, North Korea will be given a 3-0 victory,” said TMJ in a FAM statement.
“Furthermore, we will also be fined $50,000 and be disqualified from the Asian Cup qualifiers. I am also concerned that it will result in us being disqualified from future AFC tournaments. So what do we do? I want this match played at a neutral venue for the safety of the players.”
TMJ said that by playing the match in Pyongyang, Malaysia could face many logistical problems ahead of the final-round qualifier that was originally scheduled for March 28.
The match was postponed due to strained diplomatic relations between the nations after the death of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb 13.
“I have been informed by several coaches that the situation there is quite bad. I have also been informed that we need to bring our own food because there may be sabotage elements,” TMJ said.
“If there are debatable refereeing decisions against North Korea, that could also put the referee’s safety at risk, and put him under pressure. I do not agree with this decision to go there, but the decision is with the Sports Minister and the government.”
On Tuesday, Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said he had no objection about Malaysia travelling to North Korea, provided that adequate security guarantees were given.
Malaysia, still without a national head coach for the qualifying campaign, say they will make a relevant appointment in the next three or four days.
“After getting confirmation from TMJ, I will reveal the new head coach from Portugal after both parties complete the documentation and contracts. The speculation of former Olympiakos coach Paulo Bento is also not true,” FAM secretary-general Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin said via an official statement.
Datuk Ong Kim Swee, who coached Malaysia in their most recent international match against Philippines in March, is now in charge of the under-23 side. – ESPN FC