The Indian senior men’s team has been drawn against hosts Malaysia in the semi-final of the Merdeka football tournament 2023 on Tuesday.
The match will take place at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on October 13. Palestine were drawn against Lebanon in the other semi-final, which will take place earlier on the same day.
This means the tournament will be the Sunil Chhetri-led team’s first assignment after the Asian Games.
It will be India’s record 32nd meeting with Malaysia in international matches, with the last one coming in a friendly in Calcutta in 2011, where the hosts emerged 3-2 winners.
The Merdeka tournament 2023 will mark India’s first appearance in the competition since 2001 and 18th overall. India’s best performance was runners-up in 1959 and 1964.
The winners of the semi-finals will clash in the final on October 17. The two losing teams will contest the third-place play-off. Merdeka Cup or Pestabola Merdeka is held to commemorate the Independence Day of Malaysia. The competition bears the Malay word for independence.
It was one the oldest football tournaments in Asia, until it was stopped in 2013, and one of the most prestigious ones in the continent. Some of India’s star footballers including P. K. Banerjee and Tulsidas Balaram, have been part of the tournament in the past.
It was once regarded as the ‘Grand Old Lady of Asia’ where top footballing nations would participate.