SHAH ALAM: Flare-throwing fans halted Malaysia’s World Cup qualifier with Saudi Arabia yesterday as anger boiled over following last week’s record 10-0 defeat to UAE, which has left the team in crisis. Militant “Ultras Malaya” fans who had earlier threatened to disrupt the game hurled flares billowing orange smoke towards the pitch in the final minutes, as the hosts trailed 2-1. Players and officials were escorted to the dressing rooms and Saudi supporters were also seen leaving Shah Alam Stadium before the match was finally abandoned. “The game is suspended. The game isn’t going to continue,” Malaysia’s interim coach Ong Kim Swee told AFP.
About a dozen flares trailing orange smoke-as well as loud fireworks were let off by home fans in the 88th minute. Unconfirmed reports said two Saudi supporters were attacked. Police said 11 people had been arrested on charges of rioting. The ugly scenes heap further woe on soccer in Malaysia, which despite hosting the Asian Football Confederation headquarters, has been plagued by fan violence and match-fixing.
They overshadowed a busy round of fixtures in which Japan and Australia both coasted to victories and the Pacific island of Guam doggedly maintained their unbeaten home record. Hong Kong fans courted controversy when they again booed their own national anthem, which the semiautonomous territory shares with China, despite a sharp warning from FIFA.
The latest show of defiance towards Beijing follows last year’s mass protests and previous outbreaks of booing at World Cup qualifiers earlier this year. But the game ended in disappointment for Hong Kong when 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar won 3-2 despite a late fight-back when the hosts scored in the 87th and 88th minutes.
Group C rivals China also pulled off the neat trick of winning an away fixture on home soil, after their tie with Maldives was relocated to Shenyang a move which angered Hong Kong. A Yu Dabao double and a header from Chelsea-linked defender Zhang Linpeng gave China a routine 3-0 win. FIFA had agreed to move the game because of poor pitch conditions in Male. Elsewhere Shinji Kagawa netted twice as Japan outclassed Afghanistan 6-0, and Australia’s record goal-scorer Tim Cahill also hit a brace in a 3-0 away victory over Tajikistan.
Thailand scored two late goals to force a 2-2 draw with Iraq in Bangkok, and 2002 World Cup semi-finalists South Korea beat Lebanon 3-0 in Beirut.
Earlier in the day, Guam bounced back from last week’s 6-0 defeat to Iran in Tehran when they held Oman 0-0 at home to remain in the mix at the halfway stage of qualifying. Guam, with a population of about 165,000, have now won two and drawn one of their home games to remain, against all expectations, firmly in the mix at the halfway stage. Asia’s second round of 2018 World Cup qualifiers doubles as a route to the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, which is expanding from 16 to 24 teams. — AFP