English football powerbrokers head for AFC showdown

Two of English football's top powerbrokers will be in Malaysia to resolve a drawn-out row over Manchester United's planned Asian tour.
Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards and Manchester United chief executive David Gill will meet Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohamed Hammam today, AFC officials said.
Hammam, backed by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, has demanded United postpone a planned match against a Malaysian XI on July 27 and the rest of their tour as it clashes with the Asian Cup Finals from July 7-29.
He reiterated on Tuesday his position that United, or any other club, cannot play in countries hosting Asian Cup matches while the tournament is on.
“We are still looking to resolve the issue and the AFC's position remains the same,” he said.
“We are seeking an amicable solution with all parties concerned. I'm optimistic we can solve the problem.”
Earlier this month, Gill said Malaysia was a “second home” for the club and he was “extremely sad and disappointed to hear that we are not welcome”.
Despite uncertainty surrounding the match in Kuala Lumpur, United continue to offer travel packages on their website for the entire Asian tour, including the Malaysia game.
The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) initially backed Hamman but reversed their position after Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi threw his support behind the United match.
Hammam has asked to meet Abdullah but he has had no official response so far, AFC officials told AFP.
Malaysian Sports Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said on Tuesday the government's backing of United should not be misconstrued as a snub to the Asian Cup.
She said she wanted to see the United game go ahead because it was part of the nation's 50th anniversary celebrations of its independence from Britain.
“The Sports Ministry is as committed to the Asian Cup as ever. We will do our best to ensure that the stadium is filled during the Asian Cup,” she was quoted as saying.
“Even the prime minister wants Manchester United to be here as part of our Merdeka (independence) celebrations, and we are merely supporting the prime minister's call.”
Hammam has said the government, through the Sports Ministry, gave an undertaking that it would honour its commitments to the Asian Cup as a host nation, which includes not holding any other football matches while it is on.
He has warned of “wide-ranging legal repercussions” if United visit Malaysia during the tournament, urging them to reschedule the match in August.
The newly-crowned Premier League champions announced in April that they would warm up for the 2007-2008 season with a tour that takes them to Japan, South Korea, Macau and Malaysia.
The Asian Cup Finals are co-hosted by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
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