PETALING JAYA: The escalating tensions in the Middle East are getting on the nerves of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) as they prepare the Harimau Malaya for two crucial matches in the region in March.
With the United States’ airstrike that killed Iranian Maj-Gen Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad and the Iranian retaliation on military bases in Iraq housing US forces, the entire Middle East region is jittery. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have also threatened to target Dubai and Israeli city Haifa if the US responds to its attacks in Baghdad.
FAM secretary-general Stuart Ramalingam said they were keeping a close eye on the region and would consult with the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA on security steps.
Malaysia are scheduled to play an international friendly against Bahrain in Manama in March, and then the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in either Dubai or Abu Dhabi on March 26 in a 2022 World Cup-2023 Asian Games Group G qualifying match.
“We know what is happening, and we are keeping a close eye. We want to ensure that we understand every issue when it comes to regional tensions, ” he said.
“For the Bahrain friendly, it is our prerogative whether to play or not to play. For now, it is on, but we will monitor conditions in the region. We will surely speak to the Malaysian embassy to know if it is safe to play or not.
“As for the qualifiers, it is up to AFC and FIFA to decide. FAM will obey what these two bodies have to say.
“We believe that due to security inspections will be done, and we also feel that they have ways to manage the risks.
“We are still three months away from those matches, so anything can happen.”
Meanwhile, Stuart quashed speculation on social media that players like Kipre Tchetche and Endrick dos Santos would be naturalised.
“The two names that have been officially mentioned are Liridon (Krasniqi) and Guilherme (De Paula). As for the other names, they are just speculation and not from FAM.
“Besides the FIFA criteria for the five-year rule, where a player has to play in one nation for five years to be eligible for naturalisation, we also look to see if it can help the national team.
“For example, (former UKM striker) Michael Ijezie was considered but we did not go ahead with it because he could not fulfil the technical level of the national team.
“Liridon looks set to get his passport soon, while in De Paula’s case, we are waiting for AFC and FIFA to respond, as he played a few months in Cyprus in the midst of his five years in Malaysia.”
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