KUALA LUMPUR, September 11 – Malaysia’s embattled football body appealed to be given a chance to take the country back to the “glory days” on Friday after a fan revolt halted a World Cup qualifier, triggering a FIFA probe.
Fury over last week’s record 10-0 defeat, the worst in a series of poor results, boiled over in Tuesday’s game against Saudi Arabia which was abandoned when fans fired smoke-billowing flares at the pitch.
The president of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) has already promised to step down “in stages” but no further resignations were announced after an executive committee meeting on Friday.
“We know football fans are disappointed with what is happening to Malaysian football and the incident (at the qualifying match),” Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) Deputy President Afandi Hamzah told reporters.
“Hence, at this meeting we decided that we need to bring back Malaysian football to its glory days” with a greater focus on developing grassroots talent, enhancing local leagues and improving FAM itself, he said.
A task force would meet next week to look into the matter, Afandi added.
It remains to be seen how Afandi’s announcement will go down with critics, including increasingly impatient and assertive fan groups.
Malaysian football was competitive in the region in years past but experts say it is suffering from decades of inadequate efforts by FAM to develop the game.
Abdul Mokhtar Ahmad, another deputy president, appealed to fans to “give us a chance” to make things right.
“We listen and hear you that there must be changes,” he said.
FAM has faced intense pressure after the record 10-0 defeat to UAE, which cost coach Dollah Salleh his job. Earlier embarrassments included a 1-1 draw at home to East Timor and a 6-0 rout by Palestine.
Football is Malaysia’s most popular sport but the national team is now 169th in the world in FIFA’s rankings, just one spot above an all-time low of 170 hit in 2008.
As Malaysia trailed Saudi Arabia 2-1 in the final minutes of Tuesday’s game, home fans vented their rage by lobbing flares onto the pitch, filling Shah Alam Stadium with smoke and forcing the game’s cancellation.
Tuesday’s pandemonium also exposed troubling security lapses. Hundreds of security personnel were deployed amid fears of disturbances, but still failed to keep order.
It was unclear yet what actions FIFA may take against Malaysia, but they could include fines or ordering them to play behind closed doors.