HONG KONG (Reuters) – Malaysia’s Asian Cup qualifier against North Korea should be postponed not moved to a neutral venue following the recent breakdown in relations between the two countries, Hong Kong FA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe said on Thursday.
The Football Association of Malaysia have asked the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to switch the March 28 fixture from Pyongyang because of the diplomatic crisis caused by last month’s death of the estranged half-brother of North Korea ruler Kim Jong Un.
Malaysia has said assassins used VX nerve agent, a chemical listed by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction, to kill Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13.
Hong Kong and Lebanon will also play in North Korea during qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup, the continent’s equivalent of the European Championships, and Sutcliffe said a postponement would better preserve the integrity of the competition.
“It seems to me that a postponement is a sensible solution,” he told Reuters by e-mail on Thursday.
“I do not think that such an action would have a negative impact. It is quite feasible to play two matches within a FIFA international match day period.
“If things cool down and a home and away system can be maintained then it seems to me that this would be to everyone’s advantage.”
If the AFC did move the match to a neutral venue, Hong Kong would consider making a request for their tie in Pyongyang, scheduled for March 27, 2018, to be switched as well, Sutcliffe said.
“If a neutral venue is chosen then I think it could give an advantage to Malaysia and at the same time be a disadvantage to DPR Korea, depending on the venue of course,” he added.
“The HKFA will monitor the situation and may request a similar neutral venue for our away match against DPR Korea …
“We appreciate the difficulty the AFC faces in this situation and would not want to make matters worse. However, our priority is to qualify for the finals and we are in a very competitive group to start with.”
The AFC has promised a decision by the end of the week and China is the most likely neutral venue with the North Koreans having played a politically sensitive World Cup qualifying match against South Korea in Shanghai in March 2008.
During a diplomatic row between Iran and Saudi Arabia in 2016, however, the AFC did initially postpone Asian Champions League games between clubs from the two countries to give time for tensions to defuse.
When that did not happen, the matches were played at neutral venues in Oman and Qatar.
(Reporting by Michael Church in Sydney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)