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Friday, May 25, 2007

Man U dump Malaysia


NEWSFLASH - 3.30pm

Premier League champions Manchester United on Thursday bowed to pressure from the Asian Football Confederation and called off their planned match in Malaysia in July.

The decision followed talks on Wednesday between AFC president Mohamed bin Hammam, Premier League chairperson Sir Dave Richards and Manchester United chief executive David Gill.

"This match is a key element of the Malaysian government's celebrations of its 50 years of independence and presents a marvellous opportunity for us to play in front of our many Malaysian fans," United said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, new information has come to the club's attention concerning the FAM's (Football Association of Malaysia's) agreement with the AFC to act as host for the Asian Cup, which means the club cannot play the game without the official approval of the AFC."

United said the only way the match could go ahead was if the AFC changed its mind. An AFC official Thursday told AFP its position remained unchanged - that the match cannot take place while the Asian Cup is on from July 7-29.

All four Asian Cup host nations - Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam - made pledges to the AFC that they would not hold or promote any other football matches during the flagship tournament.

Bin Hammam has warned the FAM it faces "wide-ranging legal repercussions" for failing to toe the AFC line, although he has not made clear what they might be.

His fear is that a club of United's magnitude would draw attention away from the region's most prestigious football tournament, held every four years.

However, the rest of United's Asia tour to South Korea, Japan and Macau is set to go ahead despite AFC calls for it to be postponed.

The Malaysian climbdown, though, is a victory for the AFC, which had the backing of Fifa president Sepp Blatter, and a slap in the face for the FAM and the government, which invited United as part of their independence celebrations.

FAM deputy president Tengku Abdullah said they had attempted to reach an amicable solution. "In fact, I requested that United come two days later but they said it's not possible," he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.

United have fixed a friendly against Inter Milan at Old Trafford on August 1 and are unable to reschedule the match for after the Asian Cup. They then take on Chelsea in the season-opening Community Shield on August 5 - AFP.