KUALA LUMPUR, May 11 (Reuters) - Malaysia will defy the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and host Manchester United in July, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi insisted on Friday.
The AFC had angered Malaysians earlier this week by ruling out a United friendly tour match in Malaysia because it would clash with its flagship tournament, the July 7-29 Asian Cup.
Banking on their huge fan base in Asia, United had been due to play in Kuala Lumpur against a Malaysian select team on July 27, two days before the Asian Cup final in Jakarta.
The match had looked to be off when the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) bowed to AFC pressure and said United were no longer welcome.
However, the Malaysian Prime Minister joined in the fray on Friday, telling reporters the game would go ahead as scheduled.
"We want them to visit Malaysia because this year is Visit Malaysia Year... if Manchester United play in Kuala Lumpur, there will be a lot of Manchester United fans around this region, including from Singapore and Thailand, coming here."
"We hope the organisers will not cancel the game. This is the wish of the government as part of Visit Malaysia Year," he said.
AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam has accused United of being disrespectful by organising a pre-season tour which clashed with the Asian Cup.
The AFC and its Malaysian affiliate had signed a deal last year in which the Malaysians were barred from promoting any other soccer event in July.
United chief executive David Gill said this week he was "sad and disappointed" that his team were not welcome in Malaysia.
The Hong Kong-based promoter of the United tour, which also includes matches in Japan, South Korea and Macau, had expressed confidence the Malaysian part of the programme would continue.
"All four legs will go ahead as planned," said Paul Kam, chairman of ProEvents Management Ltd. "There is a lot of speculation going on, but everything will be resolved soon."
United kick off their pre-season tour against J-League champions Urawa Reds in Saitama on July 17 before travelling to South Korea to play FC Seoul on July 20.
They play China's Shenzhen FC in Macau on July 23 and were planning to finish with a match in Kuala Lumpur on July 27.
The Asian Cup runs from July 7 to 29 and is being hosted by Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Japan have won the last two Asian Cups, in Lebanon in 2000 and in China in 2004 when they defeated the hosts 3-1 in the final.