The Indian team is gearing up for a robust campaign in the Merdeka Cup 2023, set to kick off on October 13. Their first challenge in this international tournament will be against the hosts, Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Jalil National Stadium will host the game. The Merdeka Cup, also known as Pestabola Merdeka, will feature Palestine and Tajikistan, with the competition running until October 17.

Initially, Lebanon was a team to participate in the tournament, set to face Palestine. However, the country withdrew from the competition. There are concerns about Palestine’s participation due to recent events involving Hamas incursions into Israel.

The Merdeka Cup has a rich history, dating back to 1957, when it was first held in Malaysia. It is a friendly international football event among nations and is traditionally played to commemorate Malaysia’s Independence Day. After a ten-year hiatus, the competition returned in 2023, with India being part of 17 of the 41 previous editions, their most recent appearance dating back to 2001.

The tournament’s final on October 17 will feature the winners of the two semifinal matches. Earlier in the day, the two losing teams will compete in the third-place playoff.

The top-seeded team, somewhat unexpectedly, is Palestine. At the moment, this team is 96th in the FIFA football rankings. It is followed by India (102nd), Tajikistan (110th), and Malaysia (136th).

This matchup will mark Malaysia’s 32nd international encounter with India, with a memorable friendly in 2011 that saw the Blue Tigers triumph 3-2 in Kolkata. India’s head coach for the Merdeka Cup 2023, Igor Stimac, has announced a list of 26 probable players for the tournament. He will unveil the final 23-player squad travelling to Malaysia in mid-October.

The Probable 26-Member Squad for Merdeka Cup 2023:

Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Amrinder Singh, Vishal Kaith, and Dheeraj Singh.

Defenders: Nikhil Poojary, Roshan Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Anwar Ali, Mehtab Singh, Lalchungnunga, Akash Mishra, and Subhasish Bose.

Midfielders: Jeakson Singh, Suresh Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Rohit Kumar, Sahal Abdul Samad, Brandon Fernandes, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Udanta Singh, Vikram Pratap Singh, Mahesh Singh Naorem, Liston Colaco, and Nandhakumar Sekar.

Forwards: Sunil Chhetri and Manvir Singh.

Head Coach: Igor Stimac

Merdeka Cup 2023 Schedule:

October 13, Friday

– Semifinal 1: Palestine vs Tajikistan – 2:00 PM IST

– Semifinal 2: Malaysia vs India – 6:30 PM IST

October 17, Tuesday

– Third-place play-off: Loser of SF1 vs Loser of SF2 – 2:00 PM

Final: Winner of SF1 vs Winner of SF2 – 6:30 PM

The Merdeka Cup 2023 promises to be an exciting competition, with India aiming to make its mark there.

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