Malaysia setback in choice of Thailand venue for Asian qualifiers
Malaysia have been dealt a potential blow in their bid to qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, with their double header of qualifiers against North Korea to be held in provincial Buriram, instead of bustling Bangkok.
The ties are being played in neutral Thailand, due to diplomatic tensions and security concerns between the two nations.
After three postponements of the fixture in North Korea, the countries agreed to meet on neutral territory. It seemed a small victory for the Harimau Malaya when the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) confirmed neighbouring Thailand as the venue for the matches on Nov. 10 and Nov. 13.
With Malaysia bottom of Group B and needing at least four points from the two games to stay in contention for a place in the United Arab Emirates in 2019, every small advantage was welcome.
It was expected that the games would be played in Bangkok due to the range of suitable venues, including Rajamangala Stadium and Supachalasai Stadium, where the Malaysian Under-23 side successfully qualified for the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in July.
Playing in Bangkok would have encouraged Malaysian fans to make the trip to Thailand, and made it accessible to any expatriate Malaysians living near the country's largest metropolitan area.
However, it has now been confirmed that Malaysia will meet the North Koreans in the northeast of Thailand at the iMobile Stadium, approximately 400 kilometres from the Thai capital. This decision potentially robs Malaysia of something of a home advantage, with the geographical location undoubtedly discouraging many fans from travelling.
There are several daily flights from Bangkok to Buriram, but the airport lies some distance from the town centre. Although there are also bus and train options, these would take at least five hours from Bangkok.
The added travel is one thing, but accommodation options, while growing, are also more limited. Getting to Buriram makes the trip a significantly larger logistical and time-consuming commitment than it would have been in Bangkok.
Temperatures should be dropping in the next couple of weeks as the Thai "winter" kicks in, and Buriram is certainly likely to be a few degrees cooler than steamy Bangkok, which will please the North Koreans more than the Malaysians.
But for the players, the iMobile is an excellent modern football arena, and the training facilities are also top class. That is why this corner of northeast Thailand attracts and keeps many of the league's top foreign stars, like Diogo Luis Santo and Andres Tunez.
And for any fans who want to get there early, Buriram United are expected to celebrate clinching their fourth Thai League title in five years when they host BEC Tero Sasana at the same venue on Nov. 8 -- just two days before the first Asian Cup clash.
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