As the historical Merdeka Tournament beckons, here's a look at what to expect ahead of the week-long competition in Kuantan, Pahang
Former South Korean striker-turned-coach Park Sung Hwa will chart Myanmar’s fortunes in the 41stedition of the Merdeka Tournament which runs from September 9-14 in Kuantan, Pahang.
The 25-member Myanmar squad, captain by Kyaw Zayer Min, will arrive in Kuantan together with the Singapore and Thailand teams on Thursday for one of Asia’s most prestigious football tournaments held at the Darul Makmur Stadium.
Myanmar won the Merdeka Tournament three times, emerged runners-up on four occasions and shared the trophy once since the inception of the tournament in 1957, the last being in 2006 following a 2-1 victory over Indonesia in the final.
Appointed by Myanmar FA in 2011, Park has been tasked with coaching both the senior and junior national teams to turn the country’s football fortunes around and has succeeded to a certain extent. Myanmar won the bronze medal in the 2011 SEA Games and reached the semi-finals of the Under-19 and Under-16 AFF Championships.
Fifty-eight-year-old Park, however, is no stranger to the Merdeka Tournament, having first featured for the senior team alongside South Korea’s other famous footballers - Cha Bum-Kun and Kim Jae Han - in the 1975 final against Malaysia which the Koreans won 1-0 at the Merdeka Stadium.
Earlier in the preliminary round of the 1975 Merdeka tournament, Park also scored a goal in South Korea’s 3-1 win over the host’s star-studded squad which included Mokhtar Dahari, goalkeeper R. Arumugam, defenders Soh Chin Aun and Santokh Singh. He also featured in the finals of the 1977 and 1978 Merdeka Tournament against Iraq, winning the trophy on both occasions.
Meanwhile Thailand and Singapore are strong contenders too for the Merdeka Tournament, naming formidable squads when registration closed on August 31.
Thailand Football Association General-Secretary, Worawi Makudi, disclosed today that the 20 players who will feature in the 2013 Merdeka Tournament were selected from the recent National Championships and will carry Thailand’s hopes in the Merdeka Tournament.
“We appreciate and thank the Football Association of Malaysia for inviting us to this historical tournament after a lapse of five years. The Merdeka Tournament and Thailand’s King’s Cup are Asia’s longest surviving tournaments,” said Worawi today.
“We are serious contenders to win the Merdeka Tournament,” he added.
Singapore coach V. Sundramoorthy has also named a squad of 22 players that will travel to Kuantan - build around the experience of 16 members from the successful Lions XII that stormed to the Malaysian Super League (MSL) title this season.
With Izwan Mahbud's safe pair of hands, and the attacking threats from the likes of Faris Ramli, Fazli Ayob and Nazrul Ahmad Nazari; along with the silky skills of forward Shahfiq Ghani, much is expected of Sundramoorthy's side.
Most of the players are already well-drilled in the style and a system that has seen them become the first Singaporean team to lift a Malaysian domestic trophy since a Fandi Ahmad-led Singapore team won the League and Malaysia Cup double in 1994.
And now they are out to make heads turn in the Merdeka Tournament.