The Maldives will have to play both legs of its 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches against China away from home after Independence Day celebrations left the national stadium’s pitch damaged beyond use.
The pitch was covered with a turf protector for a three-hour drill depicting Maldivian history as part of celebratory activities held to mark the golden jubilee of independence from the British on July 26. The stadium’s grass was severely damaged when the protector was lifted after two weeks.
The Football Association of Maldives (FAM) announced last week that it was trying to arrange for the home match originally scheduled for September 8 to be held in Shenyang, China as an away game and to play the second leg scheduled for March 24 in Malé.
However, FAM general secretary Bassam Adeel Jaleel told local media today that the second leg will also be held in China.
The FAM was unable to change the venue as it could not bear the cost of playing the game at a neutral venue and because China has already sold television rights for the qualifier, he explained.
China has agreed to cover the expenses of both matches, he said.
The Maldives lost its first two Group C games against Qatar and group leaders Hong Kong.
Hong Kong players have meanwhile said that China enjoying “double” home ground advantage is “unfair.”
“It would be acceptable if the match was held in a neutral place as it is still an away game for China,” goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.
“But now China can start both matches against Maldives at home without any disadvantage of playing away. This is absolutely not fair.”
Defender Chan Wai-ho said the team were expecting China to drop points in its away match against Maldives, “but now this is unlikely to happen.”
“It will definitely affect Hong Kong and other teams,” said the Hong Kong captain.
Hong Kong is in pole position to qualify from the group with six points from its first two games. China and Qatar are tied in second place with three points each.
Photo of national stadium from social media.