Merdeka Cup 2023: All you need to know about India's opponent Malaysia
We take a closer look at the Malaysian football team, who are the defending champions of the Merdeka Cup and have won the tournament a record 10 times.
The Indian national football team is set to kick off their campaign in the semi-finals of the 2023 Merdeka Cup against host nation, Malaysia. This marks their return to the tournament after an absence of 21 years, making it their 18th appearance at this prestigious event. The Merdeka Cup holds special significance for India, with the team's history closely intertwined with the competition.
As per the-aiff.com, India has participated in Malaysia's Merdeka Cup on 17 occasions, more than any other international tournament since gaining independence. India has a storied rivalry with Malaysia, having faced them 31 times, more than any other opponent. Thus, the Blue Tigers will be eager to showcase their prowess and make their presence felt.
However, India will face a formidable challenge against Malaysia, who are the favourites to win the title on home turf. The Malaysian team has made significant strides in recent years, bolstered by a roster of talented players. Despite being the lowest-ranked team in this edition, they will be determined to prove their mettle.
With that, we take a closer look at the Malaysian football team, who are the defending champions of the Merdeka Cup and have won the tournament a record 10 times.
The Malaysian Football Association (MFA) was established in 1926 and became affiliated with FIFA in 1956, two years later after being inducted as one of the 14 founding members of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Malaysia's national team enjoyed success in the 1970s and 1980s, winning their second bronze at the 1974 Asian Games. Their last medal at a continental event was achieved during this time. They also qualified for back-to-back AFC Asian Cup editions in 1976 and 1980. However, their international success waned after this period. Notable players from that era included Mokhtar Dahari, Santokh Singh, and Soh Chin Aun. Dahari remains Malaysia's all-time top scorer and ranks fifth among leading international goalscorers, just behind India captain Sunil Chhetri.
Malaysia struggled to make their mark on the international stage in the subsequent years but began to see improvements when Kim Pan-gon took over as head coach in 2022. Since 2015, Malaysia has allowed overseas players to acquire citizenship and represent the national team to enhance their international prospects.
Under Kim Pan-gon’s leadership, Malaysia has made remarkable progress. They recently qualified for the AFC Asian Cup after a 42-year gap. In the ongoing year, Malaysia has shown excellent form, reaching the semi-finals of the AFF Championship and remaining unbeaten in five games since then. They even held higher-ranked teams like China and Syria to draws in September.
These positive results bode well as they prepare for the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Since Kim Pan-gon took charge in 2002, Malaysia has won 15 out of 23 games, drawing four, and losing four.
The upcoming match will mark the 32nd meeting between India and Malaysia. In their last encounter during the 2001 edition, India suffered a 2-1 defeat to the hosts. Historically, Malaysia holds the advantage with 10 wins compared to India's seven victories, while seven games have ended in draws. The two sides last faced each other in 2011 in an international friendly, with Sunil Chhetri's brace propelling India to a 3-2 win.
A promising winger representing Johor Darul Ta'zim, Aiman made his national team debut in 2021. He has established himself as a key player for Malaysia, showing scintillating form with five goals and five assists in 17 appearances. Aiman also achieved his first international hat-trick during Malaysia's commanding 10-0 victory over Papua New Guinea.
A versatile forward, Halim can lead the line or play on the wings. He has represented Malaysia at the youth level and has been part of the senior national team since 2019. With his experience, Halim has become a crucial player under Coach Pan-gon's leadership.
This centre-back, who previously represented Belgium at the youth level, switched his allegiance to Malaysia in 2021 through his mother's bloodline. Cools has been a standout performer for Malaysia and is a vital figure in central defence. Before joining Thai club Buriram United in 2023, he played for notable clubs in Europe, including Club Brugge and FC Midtjylland. Cools also has experience in top European club competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League.
Fixture: Malaysia vs India
Date: October 13
Time: 6:30 PM IST
Venue: Bukit Jalil Stadium, Malaysia
Telecast: Eurosport and Indian Football Team YouTube channel.