KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s football body braced for possible punishment on Wednesday after flare-throwing fans forced the abandonment of a World Cup qualifier in ugly scenes which deepened the country’s soccer crisis.
The embattled Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), under heavy fire since last week’s record 10-0 defeat to UAE, said it was “awaiting the decision of FIFA” after Tuesday’s incident.
Militant fans angry at last week’s 10-0 humiliation in UAE fired flares billowing orange smoke at Shah Alam Stadium as Malaysia trailed Saudi Arabia 2-1 in the final minutes late on Tuesday.
Players and officials hurried from the field and Saudi fans ran from the stands as flares flew around the stadium. Eleven people were arrested but no one was reported injured.
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said the regional body was “extremely concerned” and would support any investigation by world authority FIFA.
“This sort of behavior is deplored by all those who seek to protect the best interests of football in Asia,” he said in a statement.
Malaysia’s football body has been strongly criticised by both supporters and the government after a dire run of results culminated in last week’s 10-0 loss.
Malaysia’s worst-ever defeat followed an earlier 1-1 draw in qualifying at home against lowly East Timor and a 6-0 loss to Palestine.
“FAM views the issue of security as a serious matter, especially the safety of spectators, players and officials in the stadium,” an FAM statement said.
Tuesday’s conflagration was blamed on the Ultras Malaya group of hardcore supporters, who accuse the FAM of incompetence and had threatened to disrupt the match.
“I am truly disappointed by the fans’ behavior,” said Ong Kim Swee, who came in as stand-in coach after the UAE debacle cost former handler Dollah Salleh his job.
“While the fans’ support is important for any team, what they did last night has damaged the image of Malaysia. Already the image of Malaysian football is suffering.”
Malaysian football has been damaged by a rising hooliganism problem along with a steady flow of match-fixing scandals in the domestic leagues.
Police fired tear gas to disperse rioting fans, arresting 25 people, after a Malaysia FA Cup semifinals in May, and last December, five Malaysia supporters were arrested for attacking Vietnamese fans during a heated Suzuki Cup semifinals.
Malaysian sports minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who talked of suspending the FAM after the 10-0 loss, again pointed the finger at the football body when he tweeted, “FAM lost control at their own stadium”.