Merdeka Cup 2023: India gear up for hostile atmosphere in semi-final against Malaysia
The Blue Tigers return to the Merdeka Cup after 22 years.
Indian men's national football team will face hosts Malaysia in the semi-final of the prestigious Merdeka Cup at Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on October 13.
It will be the first time since 2001 that India will participate in one of Asia’s oldest football tournaments, the Merdeka Cup.
The Blue Tigers have been in good form in 2023, as they won three back-to-back trophies in the form of the Tri-Nation Cup, the Intercontinental Cup, and the SAFF Championship. They will be determined to continue their good run, as their eyes will be on the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in November and the AFC Asian Cup in January.
On the other hand, Malaysia haven't lost in eight of their last nine matches, and their home record is also very impressive. The hosts are also the most successful team in the tournament, winning the title 10 times. Though they are the worst-ranked team among the participating countries, they will be looking to continue their supremacy in the 43rd edition of the Merdeka Cup.
India head coach Igor Stimac addressed the media before their clash against Malaysia. He stated,
“We know about the good run Malaysia have had in the past few months. They have a good coach and some wonderful homegrown players, who are very well supported by the naturalised players, so there is a lot of stability in the team at the moment.”
“They have a very stable, competitive side with a clear idea about what they need to do on the pitch. We are also in a similar situation, but with the 90,000 supporters and with our record away from home, which has not been that great, it’s advantage Malaysia,” he added.
𝗕𝗔𝗖𝗞 𝗜𝗡 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗠𝗘𝗥𝗗𝗘𝗞𝗔 𝗔𝗙𝗧𝗘𝗥 𝟮𝟮 𝗬𝗘𝗔𝗥𝗦! 🇮🇳🙌— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) October 13, 2023
The #BlueTigers 🐯 take on hosts Malaysia 🇲🇾 in Kuala Lumpur tonight ⚡
🕡 18:30 IST
🏟️ Bukit Jalil Stadium
📺 @EurosportIN & Indian Football Facebook#MASIND ⚔️ #PestabolaMerdeka2023 🏆 #IndianFootball ⚽ pic.twitter.com/0zua5UxJrI
But the Croatian believes that his boys will do everything possible to surprise their opponents. Despite having an unfavourable away record, they will try to win the historic tournament for the very first time.
“We know of the history and importance of this tournament, and we will do everything in our power to win the two matches and lift the trophy for the first time, but we also need to be mindful of the challenges coming ahead,” Stimac said.
Anwar Ali, Subhasish Bose, Manvir Singh, and Brandon Fernandes are carrying injuries from their club engagements. The head coach mentioned that they have to be alert to keep all his players fit as there will be a busy winter with packed international fixtures. In this context, the Croatian said,
“It is very important that we do not risk any injuries, as we have two very important World Cup Qualifiers coming up in November.”
It will be the 32nd time India will play against Malaysia at the international level. 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 big crowd is expected in Kuala Lumpur for the match and defender Sandesh Jhingan expressed his eagerness to play in front of such a crowd.
“Malaysia was the first country that I ever went to play football during my days in the school nationals, so that memory will always be special for me. It’s great to be back and to play in a historic tournament like the Merdeka. I’ve read all about its history and heritage, and it’s great to be a part of such an event," he said.
“As an athlete, you always want to play on the big stage, you want people to come and watch you,” he added.
India's match against Malaysia will be telecast live on Eurosport and streamed live on the Indian Football YouTube Channel.
The winner between Malaysia and India will play against Tajikistan in the final of the Merdeka Cup on October 17 at Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.