Image Courtesy: Football Association of Malaysia (FAM)

India failed to make a mark in their return to the historic Merdeka Cup as they went down fighting to Malaysia 4-2 in the semi-final at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.

The Blue Tigers had a glorious opportunity within the opening two minutes when Sahal Abdul Samad struck the woodwork with a thunderous volley. The hosts seized control of the game thereafter and secured an early lead in the seventh minute when Dion Cools expertly volleyed in after Sandesh Jhingan failed to clear the ball out of the danger zone.

Despite facing initial pressure, India responded quickly, and they equalized with a precise finish by Naorem Mahesh Singh in the 13th minute. However, Malaysia regained their lead from the penalty spot through Arif Aiman. They continued to pile pressure on the Indian defence with their relentless attacks. In the 42nd minute, Faisal Halim extended their lead, capitalizing on a defensive error by Mehtab Singh, as Malaysia went into the break with a two-goal cushion.

In the second half, India looked more composed and showed a stronger desire to bounce back, and they rightfully did so in the 51st minute through their captain Sunil Chhetri, who tapped it in from close range after Lallianzuala Chhangte squared the ball for him. The Blue Tigers had a golden opportunity to level the score, but Lallianzuala Chhangte's effort from a tight angle was cleared off the line.

The hosts extended their lead once again through La'Vere Corbin-Ong. Stimac made some changes but failed to turn the game in favour of his team. Chhangte had another chance in the 69th minute but was unlucky as his shot hit the inside frame of the crossbar.

In the final quarter of the game, India tried to excel with some impressive moves in the opponent's half, but the final touch was lacking. The hosts held firm in their defensive line and secured the win on the night. They will now take on Tajikistan in the final on October 17.