India will play in Merdeka Cup, don’t listen to fake news: AIFF secretary general Shaji Prabhakaran

India finished as the runner-up at the Merdeka Cup twice, in 1959 and 1964, with the former campaign seeing the Blue Tigers remain unbeaten throughout the tournament.

Shaji Prabhakar (left) confirmed that India, led by head coach, Igor Stimac, will definitely be part of Merdeka Cup.

Shaji Prabhakar (left) confirmed that India, led by head coach, Igor Stimac, will definitely be part of Merdeka Cup. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

India finished as the runner-up at the Merdeka Cup twice, in 1959 and 1964, with the former campaign seeing the Blue Tigers remain unbeaten throughout the tournament.

India will be part of the Merdeka Cup in Malaysia when it restarts, Shaji Prabhakaran, the general secretary of the All India Football Federation confirmed on Saturday.

“When we were in Malaysia a few months back, it was finalised that India will be part of the Merdeka Cup whenever it happens. Suddenly some fake news resulted in confusion. So, they (Malaysian FA) iterated recently that India will be there,” Shaji Prabhakaran told Sportstar.

“The dates and details have not been confirmed yet. They will confirm it, but we, for sure, will be there.”

Merdeka Cup was one the oldest international football tournaments in Asia – until it was stopped in 2013 – and one of the most prestigious ones in the continent. India has seen some of its stars of the Golden Era, namely P. K. Banerjee and Tulsidas Balaram, shine in that tournament.

India’s P. Kannan scores against Malaysia in a Merdeka Cup game in Kuala Lumpur in 1968.

India’s P. Kannan scores against Malaysia in a Merdeka Cup game in Kuala Lumpur in 1968. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Starting in 1957, it was played annually until 1988 but its popularity eventually waned, leading to the tournament eventually becoming a thing of the past by 2015.

“Merdeka has an emotional connection with India. Whenever India participated in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, it took the Indian flag higher. And so, when Merdeka starts again, we would like to be there and give more competitive exposure to our players. And that way our team can also grow,” Shaji said.

India finished as the runner-up at the Merdeka Cup twice, in 1959 and 1964, with the former campaign seeing the Blue Tigers remain unbeaten throughout the tournament.

“We have to bring back those glory days of football. We will definitely take whatever steps we have to, within our situation and in collaboration with everyone, to achieve that,” he added.

Malaysia clarified the confusion

In October last year, AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey confirmed that the Malaysian Football Association was working on restarting the tournament and India was on its list of invitees.

However, there were some rumours last week that the Blue Tigers were not among the countries invited for the Merdeka Cup 2023. Syria, Thailand, Palestine and Vietnam were the four confirmed participants in the prestigious tournament.

“In this world of fake news, some people who are anti-India or anti-Indian Football have spread such news. So, it should be checked and we checked it,” Shaji clarified.

“The good thing is that the call came from them only (Malaysia) because we have mutual respect for each other, with any country we speak. And it was clarified that India will be part of the Merdeka Cup.”

While the dates have not been confirmed, the Merdeka Cup 2023 is expected to be played in the September-October window this year.

India, participating in two successive editions of the AFC Asian Cup for the first time, will play in Qatar in July and is then expected to fly to Malaysia for the Merdeka Cup.

After the Indian Super League, followed by the Hero Super Cup, which ends in May, the Merdeka Cup will keep Igor Stimac’s side busy for the later part of the year, irrespective of the Asian Cup happening in late 2023 or early 2024. More importantly, it will give India a chance to revive its performance in Asia.

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