KUALA LUMPUR: For safety reasons, the Malaysian government has barred its national football squad from flying to Pyongyang for the AFC Asian Cup qualifying match against North Korea on Mar 28.
The Harimau Malaysia squad had been due to begin their third round qualifying campaign in the North Korean capital in preparation for the 2019 tournament in the United Arab Emirates. Lebanon and Hong Kong have also been drawn in the same pool, with the top two teams advancing to the finals in the United Arab Emirates.
In a press release issued on Monday (Mar 6), Football Association of Malaysia's (FAM) secretary-general, Hamidin Mohd Amin, said he was informed of the decision by Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and via a letter by the ministry.
"The decision was made after the matter was discussed in parliament recently," said Mr Hamidin in the statement.
Mr Hamidin said that he was informed by Foreign Minister Anifah Aman on Mar 2 that the match venue was safe and that any changes would be related to him.
"But Malaysia's decision to expel North Korean envoy Kang Chol on Mar 4 has made it unsafe at the moment for Malaysians to visit North Korea," he added.
FAM added that it has asked if the team would be allowed to play in a neutral venue.
"We asked the AFC today if we could play in a neutral venue. We expect a decision by the end of this week," Mr Hamidin told Reuters.
An alternative venue has yet to be put forward and AFC said it would issue a statement on the matter later on Monday.