FAM under fire over fan violence
MALAYSIA'S football body braced for possible punishment yesterday, 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 by the United Arab Emirates, said it was "awaiting the decision of Fifa" after Tuesday's incident.
Militant fans angry at last week's 10-0 humiliation in the UAE fired flares billowing orange smoke at the Shah Alam Stadium as hosts Malaysia trailed Saudi Arabia 1-2 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 Ebrahim Al Khalifa said the regional body was "extremely concerned" and would support any investigation by world authority Fifa.
"The AFC is extremely disappointed with the events which took place on Tuesday and we stress that we take such matters very seriously," he said in a statement. "This sort of behaviour is deplored by all those who seek to protect the best interests of football in Asia," the Bahraini added.
The FAM 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 low-ranking Timor Leste 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 hard-core supporters, who accuse the FAM of incompetence and had threatened to disrupt the match.
"I am truly disappointed by the fans' behaviour," 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 semi-final in May. Last December, five Malaysian supporters were arrested for attacking Vietnamese fans during a heated Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup semi-final.
Yesterday, officials wondered how flares and fireworks had been allowed into the stadium despite a heavy security cordon involving hundreds of personnel.
"I am dumbfounded, as despite the tight security outside and inside the stadium, fans still smuggled banned items," FAM deputy president Mokhtar Ahmad was quoted saying by the New Straits Times.
"There were only 10,000 fans in the stadium but yet the security could not control them," he added, calling on the police to explain.
The concerns over security have been heightened as the Malaysia Cup, which Singapore's LionsXII are involved in, kicks off this weekend.
But Malaysia's Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who had mooted the idea 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".
FAM president Tengku Abdullah Ahmad Shah had said on Monday that he would "step down in stages" following the 10-0 drubbing.
Fifa has yet to comment on Tuesday's events.