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AFC postpones Malaysia v North Korea match in Pyongyang

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's 2019 Asian Cup qualifier against North Korea due to be played in Pyongyang later this month has been postponed, the Asian Football Confederation announced on Friday.

The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) had made a request not to play the March 28 fixture in the North Korean capital under pressure from its government following the recent breakdown in relations between the two countries.

The countries have become embroiled in a growing row after Malaysia accused North Korea of assassinating Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of Pyongyang ruler Kim Jong Un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13.

"The Asian Football Confederation Competitions Committee have today decided to postpone the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Final Round Qualifier between DPR Korea and Malaysia," the regional governing body said in a statement.

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"The match was scheduled to be played in the DPR Korea capital Pyongyang on March 28... but the AFC Competitions Committee have taken the decision to postpone the tie after escalating diplomatic tension between the Governments of DPR Korea and Malaysia.

"A new date for the game will be announced in due course."

The two nations were due to open the final phase of qualifying for the Asian Cup finals hosted by the United Arab Emirates with a Group B encounter at Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Stadium.

FAM reacted by releasing a statement saying the AFC had acted appropriately given tensions had yet to subside.

"FAM welcomes the decision made by the AFC because it is seen as the most appropriate measures for the safety of the players and team officials," the association said.

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.

Hong Kong FA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe on Thursday also called for the match to postponed, adding that the tie could be played in Pyongyang at a later date when relations between the countries had improved.

Despite the postponement of the North Korea tie, Malaysia still plan to travel to the Philippines for an international friendly against their Southeast Asian neighbors at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila on March 22.

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Bengaluru; Editing by John O'Brien)