Football: Indonesia hit with World Cup penalties by AFC

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia, already facing the prospect of a Fifa ban for government interference, have been forced to play their World Cup and Asian Cup qualifier against Iraq in an empty stadium and their home tie against Thailand at a neutral venue.

The decision was taken by the Asian Football Confederation after crowd trouble during two under-23 matches in March against East Timor and South Korea in Jakarta.

Indonesia, who were also fined US$20,000 (S$26,700) by the AFC and warned of heavier sanctions should such incidents recur, are scheduled to host Iraq on June 16 after they start their joint qualifying campaign in Taiwan on June 11.

They then travel to Hanoi to face Vietnam in September before an Oct 8 clash at home to South-east Asian champions Thailand.

But whether Indonesia are allowed to compete in the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers still remains a big doubt with the domestic game in lockdown after the season was cancelled following a row between local government and football association (PSSI).

The two sides have been given until Friday to resolve their differences, which have stemmed from the PSSI's repeated failure to expel two clubs from the Indonesian Super League at the government's recommendation because of ownership concerns.

The government have suspended the PSSI, who have cancelled the league season after two rounds. Meanwhile the players have been left in the lurch with no pay.

The PSSI launched plans for a new pre-season tournament last week featuring the 18 top-flight teams split into three groups before they bid to start the new league campaign in September but the Champions Cup was swiftly scrapped.

The government's transitional team, brought in to oversee football in one of the world's most populous countries, refused to give it permission.

PSSI officials arrived in Switzerland this week for next Friday's Fifa congress, where the world governing body will also hold presidential elections, and said they would work to avoid a ban. "We will try our best to lobby Fifa not to impose sanctions on Indonesia," PSSI chairman La Nyalla Mattalitti told The Jakarta Post.

The government were also planning to hold discussions with Fifa to explain the situation but La Nyalla said that was pointless as the body would only speak to its members.

The lack of talks between the two parties suggest a Fifa ban is most likely.

Indonesia technical director Peter Hoekstra said a suspension would be hugely damaging and added that the government row had already harmed his work.

"It would be very damaging," the former Dutch and Ajax Amsterdam winger told BBC World Football.

"Unfortunately for us the ministry stepped in and it looks like they are killing off the initiatives we tried to bring in."