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 By Paul Murphy

Thailand ask for qualifier vs. Australia to be moved, won't skip AFF Cup

BANGKOK -- The Football Association of Thailand (FAT) has requested that next month's 2018 AFC World Cup qualifier at home to Australia is played elsewhere as the country grieves for the passing of its revered monarch, King Bhumipol Adulyadej.

Thailand has entered a 30-day period of mourning in which all high-profile entertainment activities have to be cancelled or toned down.

As a result, the FAT has decided to call a halt to the Thai football season, with three Premier League of Thailand (PLT) games still to play and two cups to be decided.

They have also submitted a request to FIFA, asking for the Group B game, scheduled for Nov. 15 in Bangkok, to be played on neutral territory.

Thailand team vs. Saudi Arabia WCQ
Thailand are due to begin their Suzuki Cup campaign four days after their Nov. 15 qualifier vs. Australia.

There have been suggestions that the game could now take place in Singapore or Japan. If all parties agree, FIFA could also consider a straight swap, with Thailand heading to Australia next month and the Socceroos visiting Thailand next year instead.

Singapore were allowed such a move last year when their home match with Japan clashed with the closing ceremony for the Southeast Asian Games. In addition to the potential impact on the international scene, the decision to cease all domestic football activities for the year provisionally means that the current PLT table will represent the final standings.

This means that Muang Thong United, currently five points ahead of second-placed Bangkok United, are champions. Hassan Sunny's Army United and Florent Sinama Pongolle's Chainat now face relegation, along with BBCU FC, whose drop into Division One had already been confirmed.

Buriram United and Muang Thong will have to draw lots for the League Cup after the cancellation of the final, which was due to take place this weekend. Chonburi, Chainat, Ratchaburi and Sukhothai, the FA Cup semi-finalists, will also have to draw lots for a title that includes a slot in an AFC Champions League qualifier.

In a country in which the King's passing has sparked unprecedented scenes of grief, it is unlikely that the FAT's actions will be challenged. There will be little stomach for football for some time but there are no plans for Thailand to withdraw from the AFF Suzuki Cup, which begins on Nov. 19, with a match against Indonesia in the Philippines. If they reach the last four, however, they may request that their home legs are played outside Thailand.

Of course, things can change quickly in Thai football but, for now, the FAT will wait on the outcome of their request to FIFA as the country comes to terms with life without its beloved King, who had spent 70 years on the throne.

Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK

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