Merdeka Cup a good opportunity for India to improve away record: Sunil Chhetri
India play Malaysia in the semi-final of the tournament on Friday.
The Blue Tigers are eager to utilise the unique opportunity of playing in an 87,000-seater arena as an away team, as they gear up for their match against Malaysia in the Pestabola Merdeka 2023.
India, who are placed 102 in the FIFA Rankings, will take on hosts Malaysia, ranked 134, on Friday, October 13, 2023, at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, at 6.30 pm IST.
Chhetri, who joined the national team on Tuesday night, said, “It feels good to be back in the national team after winning the Intercontinental Cup and SAFF Championship. It will be different here, we are playing away from home, and we’ve heard of the hostile reception we could get on matchday.
“But it’s not common for us to get to play such matches away from home, and this will be a very good opportunity for us to better our away record. It’s a good test, and we are all looking forward to it,” he said.
The 39-year-old mercurial striker is aware of the history and weight that the name Merdeka carries, but is solely focused on the road ahead.
“I know our past teams have done well in the Merdeka, and the more recent ones have not done as well. It’s an extremely important tournament for Malaysia, but we are only thinking about our first game right now. We need to focus on it and win the game, before thinking about other things,” he said.
Malaysia is well known for its Indian diaspora, with around two million persons of Indian origin residing in the country. Chhetri hopes that out of the packed 87,000 fans at the Bukit Jalil, a sizeable number would be rooting for the Blue Tigers.
“I’ve heard it would be a jam-packed stadium when we play, but I hope a few Indian fans are also there. Being Indians, we tend to get fans wherever we travel, so I hope all the Indian fans, whoever can afford the tickets, can make it to support us against Malaysia,” said Chhetri.
The Blue Tigers travelled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Monday, October 9, 2023, with a squad of 21 players, while defender Sandesh Jhingan and striker and captain Sunil Chhetri joined the team on Tuesday, October 10, 2023.
The Blue Tigers squad of 23 for the Merdeka Tournament was announced by the All India Football Federation. “We have a squad of 23 here in Malaysia, but four of our players – Anwar Ali, Subhasish Bose, Manvir Singh, and Brandon Fernandes – are carrying injuries from their club engagements,” said head coach Igor Stimac.
India's match against Malaysia will be telecast live on Eurosport and streamed live on the Indian Football YouTube Channel.