THE memory of 17 fans from top Malaysian side Kedah who died in a fiery road smash as they travelled to watch their team play in the Malaysian Cup final, proved a brutal comedown for the team as they tried celebrating their 2-0 win over Singapore. When the victorious team returned home with the cup last Monday, what should have been a glorious procession through 6,000 supporters waiting at the airport became a difficult and choking experience for fans and players alike. Team captain Radhi Mat Din told the near-capacity crowd in the Alor Star Stadium that all the celebrations should reflect the sadness so close to home. ''I'm still having mixed feelings,'' said the man whose cross and throw-in respectively set up the two goals that undid the Singapore challenge. ''I mean, here we are celebrating and out there are families who are crying their hearts out.'' After a minute's silence in the packed but eerily silent stadium, appeal funds for the families were officially announced. Already they have swelled to M$35,000 with pledges from the players and provincial authorities. The fans died early last Sunday morning as they travelled by van into Kuala Lumpur to buy tickets for the final. The incident happened near Tapah in Perak when their van was hit and crushed by an oncoming bus. While the match result itself was plenty of cause for celebration the deaths underlined Kedah's reputation as a cursed side. Before the latest toll, 12 Kedah fans had died as a result of their five appearances in the cup finals. While talk of curses has little basis in fact, rumours about Singapore's poor showing being the result of match-fixing are much more plausible. The small island state has a wicked problem with illegal bookmakers paying top national players to throw games. Many Singapore fans believe the indifferent commitment shown by the team was proof positive that the bookies had struck. The Straits Times shouted in a post-match editorial for the involvement of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. ''If suspicions are strong, then the identified few - with or without evidence - should consciously be dropped for a season or two to teach others a strict lesson,'' said the paper. THE Asian Football Confederation has announced that Bangkok will host the final round of the Asian Club Championships featuring the top eight teams from the 36-nation confederation. However, the tournament from January 28 to February 7 has left the AFC somewhat red-faced with two sides qualifying only on the strength of withdrawals and forfeited matches. This has meant unlikely sides like minnows Victory from the Maldives suddenly appearing in the final round alongside Asian juggernauts Yomiuri Verdy from the Japanese J.League, top Chinese team Liaoning and Saudi Arabia's Al Shabab. The Omani Club from Oman did not have to play a game before joining other West Asian sides Al-Ansar from Lebanon and Muharraq from Bahrain in the lineup. The host side are Thai Farmers, whose name derives not from the professions of the players who make up the side, but from the name of the banking corporation that sponsors them. Meantime the AFC has promised to tackle head-on the issue of team withdrawals that have dogged their competitions, at a seminar for Asia's footballing general-secretaries next February. It's thought new proposals up for discussion could include a change of competition format as well as increased travel compensation for hard-up teams. JAPAN may have been bundled out of the World Cup, but the country's love affair with their most famous player continues unabated. Kazuyoshi Miura's goalscoring skills have pushed his J.League side Yomiuri Verdy to a certain win in the second leg of the inaugural competition. Yomiuri have won 14 matches with only two defeats while nearest rivals Shimizu S-Pulse are 12 and four. Even if Shimizu win their last two matches, thanks to Miura, Yomiuri's goal difference is double Shimizu's. With victory assured, Miura is going to take up the offer to play in a world selection charity team match against AC Milan on December 29. Among those taking the field with him will be Holland's Ruud Gullit, French striker Jean-Pierre Papin and Brian Laudrup of Denmark. ''I won't get nervous (just) because I will be playing with those big name players. Once I go out in the match, I'll just be playing my game as a representative from Asia,'' said Miura. Although Miura is not everybody's idea of an Asian football player, with his movie star looks and movie star wife, he promises to be an excellent ambassador. Of course, he'll be back in time for the December 31 semi-finals of the Emperor's Cup to try and help Yomiuri to their second successive final.