Malaysia defends players after SEA Games scuffle

AFP , KUALA LUMPUR
Wednesday, Dec 09, 2009, Page 19
Malaysian soccer officials on Monday defended their team after a scuffle at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games that saw angry players chase the referee, who fled the pitch under police escort.

The Malaysian Under-23 players let loose after suffering a 3-1 loss to Vietnam in the Laotion capital Vientiane on Sunday — a huge setback in efforts to qualify for the semi-finals.

Malaysian and Vietnamese newspapers said the players threw bottles and chased South Korean referee Kim Jong-hyeok, who had to run to the middle of the ground to escape his pursuers.

Security forces later moved in to protect the referee and escort him off the pitch while the Malaysian players were calmed by their coach.

Malaysian officials admitted the team had behaved badly, but said they had been provoked.

“We have registered our strong protest and concern at the referee, who seemed to be unfair and biased against the Malaysian team,” said Khairy Jamaluddin, the deputy chair of the Football Association of Malaysia.

“This was the direct cause of the behavior of some of our players. Of course bad behavior can never be excused, but we were very unhappy with the quality of the refereeing,” he told reporters.

Malaysian coach K. Rajagobal also blamed the outburst on controversial decisions by Kim, including a red card for Mohamad Zaquan Adha Abdul Razak.

“The Malaysian team was always on the offensive but whenever our player was in front of the goal … the referee would always make a call not in our favor, putting our players under stress,” he said.

The senior Malaysian national side are now ranked a lowly 152 by FIFA, having fallen steadily since the 1970s and 1980s when they regularly beat Japan and South Korea.

The country’s soccer disintegration has been blamed on poor management, cronyism, corruption, a lack of government support and the absence of any grassroots nurturing of talent.