Turkmen stunt


BY ERIC SAMUEL

PETALING JAYA: Allan Harris and his Under-22 boys are ready for action. The four South Korean referees are here. FIFA's match commissioner from Maldives is also here and all is set for Malaysia's big pre-Olympic first-leg match against Turkmenistan. There is just one catch – the Turkmen are not coming.  

And Malaysia are through to the Asian final round for the first time since 1980 – and they did not even have to kick a ball.  

Malaysia were given a bye in the first round and Turkmenistan's absence from today's match means the match will be forfeited.  

Harris’ boys will also not have to play the second leg in Ashqabat, which had been scheduled for June 7. 

Malaysia are also the first team to have qualified for the final round and will play their first match in the Olympic qualifiers in March next year. 

WALKOVER WINNERS: National coach Allan Harris with his boys during training at Wisma FAM in Kelana Jaya Friday. With the Turkmens staying away, the team have qualified for the Asian last 12 for the first time since 1980 - without having to kick a ball. - STARpic by A. Malex Yahaya

The FA of Malaysia's (FAM) officials, who had been in the dark over whether their opponents would be coming for the match, which had been scheduled to be played at the Shah Alam Stadium at 8.45 tonight, finally learned the truth at 10.15pm yesterday.  

The Turkmenistan FA sent FAM a fax saying that they would not be coming for the match and wished Malaysia “best of luck” in the next round. 

A call to the Turkmenistan FA yesterday was answered by an unidentified secretary who said the team had been stopped from leaving by the government.  

Until late last night, though, the FAM had stationed their officials at the KLIA in the hope that the players would arrive. 

The Turkmen had originally been scheduled to arrive here on Thursday but their local authorities had stopped them at their airport, instructing them not to travel to Kuala Lumpur for fear of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) threat in Asia. 

FAM secretary general Datuk Dell Akbar Khan told a press conference earlier that the visitors had not arrived and none of their Football Association officials had been present for the team managers' briefing yesterday. 

“We have no news of their arrival but all preparations are in place.  

“Everything is in place because FIFA have informed us that they have rejected Turkmenistan's request for a postponement of the match The letter was dated April 30,'' said Dell. 

National coach Allan Harris said he had never faced a situation such as this. 

Harris, who had intended to name his final 18 at the press conference yesterday, decided not to do so after learning of their opponents' absence.  

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