The Football Association of Malaysia on October 10 announced a change of fixtures for the Merdeka Tournament 2023, following Palestine’s last-minute withdrawal from the competition. The tournament will now take place with three teams – India, Tajikistan and hosts Malaysia in a knock-out format.
Sticking to the original schedule, India will play hosts Malaysia at the 90,000-seater Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on October 13, with the winners set to play Tajikistan in the final on October 17.
“The format change is the best solution that has been reached at a special meeting between [Football Association of Malaysia] as the organizer of the 2023 Independence Cup [Merdeka] with the management of the Indian and Tajikistan teams, this morning after taking into account the time constraints following the withdrawal of the Palestinian team,” Football Association of Malaysia said in a statement on Tuesday.
Palestine has withdrawn from the tournament due to the ongoing conflict between the country and Israel. Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an attack on Israeli cities on October 7. In response, Israel declared a complete siege of Gaza, increasing airstrikes and sealing it from water, fuel and power supplies.
The Blue Tigers arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Monday and were instantly greeted by the torrential downpour that southeast Asia is so well known for.
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is one who has experience playing in Malaysia, having played in the AFC Cup against Selangor FA in 2013 for East Bengal, and is raring to go.
“I have played here once before, and I still remember the stadium, it was absolutely buzzing. I think we have a lot of Indians here as well, and it will be good to see some of those fans support us as well,” he said. “I would like to request all the Indian fans in Kuala Lumpur to come and support us.”
Defender Subhasish Bose feels that matches against Malaysia and Tajikistan, both of whom have had good preparation in the lead-up to the Merdeka Tournament, will help the team in their longer aim to prepare for bigger events like the World Cup Qualifiers next month or the AFC Asian Cup in January.
“These will be tough matches against some good sides,” he said. “Malaysia are a very good team and have had some good results recently. So, everyone’s looking forward to playing against them.”
October 13: Malaysia vs India, 6:30 PM IST
October 17: Malaysia/India vs Tajikistan, 6:30 PM IST