KUANTAN (6 September 2013): Traditional rivals Myanmar and Thailand go into their opening Merdeka Tournament match tomorrow with the knowledge that a defeat would be greeted with a backlash of criticism from football fans back home.
Myanmar team manager Tin Myint Aung, who is also the technical director of Myanmar Football Association, said they are here to give the 41st edition of the Merdeka Tournament a ‘golden touch’ with positive results in preparation for the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in December.
“As host for the SEA Games, there is a lot of pressure on us to win the gold medal but our journey to the SEA Games starts here in the Merdeka Tournament. Our fans are keeping a close watch on us here and we hope to play well,” said Myint Aung, who once featured for the Malaysian Armed Forces team in the Malaysian League from 1989-1991.
“The spotlight is definitely on us and this tournament is crucial to our preparation for the SEA Games. It is a good opportunity for all the teams playing in this tournament to analyse their opponents’ strength and weakness,” he said. “We have assembled our best players as we know Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are strong opponents,” added Myint Aung.
Myanmar FA have hired former South Korean striker Park Sung Hwa to revive their fortunes. The 58-year-old Park, however, is no stranger to the Merdeka Tournament; having featured in four Merdeka Tournaments alongside South Korea’s other famous footballers – Cha Bum-Kun and Kim Jae Han from 1974 to 1978, and claimed three winners’ medals.
Meanwhile, Thailand team manager Pol. Col Pornchai Thaithae assured local fans that the team is fortified by a combination of ‘young and experience’ players who are capable of providing Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar serious competition.
For the record, Thailand has never reached the final of the Merdeka Tournament since its inception in 1957. In the last 40 years the Thais have failed in numerous attempts, either crashing out of the group stage or in the semi-finals.
“We have singled out Malaysia as the favourites to reach the final as they have a very strong team and have the support of home fans here. However, it is our target to play in the final as well so we are highly motivated,” added Pornchai.
The Thais have registered 20 players for the Merdeka Tournament – 10 of who are under the age of 23 while the remaining are senior players.
“We have selected those available at this moment and also players who are ready for this kind of tough competition. Our league is still running and we cannot call several other players because of this,” he said. “We have a big pool of players and this tournament not only gives the ten players a chance to impress the coach for a place in the SEA Games squad, but also offers the older players a chance to get back into the senior team.”
“With the home ground advantage, Malaysia is definitely tipped as favourites. But if you play well and hard, anything is possible as it is just how the players blend themselves on match day,” said Pornchai.
Sept 7 (Saturday): Malaysia v Singapore (5.30pm); Thailand v Myanmar (8.45pm)
Sept 9 (Monday): Thailand v Singapore (5.30pm); Malaysia v Myanmar (8.45pm)
Sept 11 (Wednesday): Malaysia v Thailand (Stadium Darul Makmur, 8.45pm); Singapore v Myanmar (Stadium Temerloh, 8.45pm)
Sept 14 (Saturday): Third-fourth placing playoff (5.30pm); Final (8.45pm). Both matches will be played at Stadium Darul Makmur.
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