HONG KONG, (Reuters) - - Malaysia still hopes its postponed Asian Cup qualifier against North Korea will be played in a neutral venue despite an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) decision on Wednesday to delay the match until October.
The match, originally scheduled to be held in Pyongyang on March 28 before being put off to June 8, has now been pushed back to Oct. 5 due to what the AFC called the “the geo-political tension on the Korean Peninsula”.
“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.”
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.
Tensions around the region also escalated due to repeated missile tests by the North Korea.
The AFC initially announced the game would be delayed until June 8 and would likely be played in a neutral venue. It then declared earlier this month that the confederation expected the Malaysians to play the fixture in Pyongyang as travel restrictions between the countries had been lifted.
FAM president Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim 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.
The game has now been delayed until Oct. 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.
“Our position is that we will follow the AFC because the AFC handles the whole competition,” said Hamidin.
“We will follow through on the postponement so the first game we play (in the qualifiers) will be against Lebanon on June 13. We will follow through on what we’re supposed to do on this one. We respect this decision of the AFC.”
Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong; editing by Mark Heinrich