India’s Merdeka Cup Dreams Dashed in Semifinal Showdown Against Malaysia

India's Merdeka Cup Dreams Dashed in Semifinal Showdown Against Malaysia

India’s return to the Merdeka Tournament after a 22-year hiatus concluded in profound disappointment as they fell to the host nation, Malaysia, with a score of 2-4 in the semi-final match. This dramatic encounter unfolded in front of an electrifying home crowd at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium on Friday, October 13, 2023. Malaysia, following this win, advanced to the final to face Tajikistan on October 17.

The match was marred by a series of contentious refereeing decisions, including the disallowed ‘goal’ scored by the Indian team. At halftime, the Blue Tigers found themselves trailing 1-3, but they staged a spirited comeback in the second half, with their captain, Sunil Chhetri, reducing the deficit.

However, their hopes were dashed when, in the 56th minute, the Thai referee, Mongkolchai Pechhri, controversially disallowed a goal by Lallianzuala Chhangte, despite television replays clearly indicating that the ball had crossed the goal line. With no VAR available, the referee’s decision stood, much to the Indians’ disbelief.

Despite the defeat, India’s two goals provided a silver lining for their fans. Mahesh Singh Naorem’s goal was particularly noteworthy, resulting from a well-orchestrated combination involving Lallianzuala Chhangte, Sahal Abdul Samad, and Mahesh, leading to a precise volley that left the Malaysian goalkeeper helpless. Chhangte played a pivotal role in India’s second goal as well, providing Chhetri with a simple tap-in opportunity.

Nonetheless, Chhangte’s disallowed goal remained a source of disappointment for him and the team. The penalty conceded by India and the alleged penalty denial would likely be subjects of fervent debate in the weeks to come.

In the first half, India’s lackluster defensive display cost them dearly. Mahesh Singh Naorem’s stunning 13th-minute strike, which canceled out Malaysia’s early lead, proved insufficient as the Malaysian offense repeatedly breached India’s porous defense, resulting in three goals before halftime.

Despite their second-half efforts, India’s luck seemed to have run out. The disallowed goal and the goalpost thwarted their plans on several occasions. Notwithstanding the defeat, the Indian team, with limited training time due to domestic commitments, displayed commendable resilience. Igor Stimac’s boys may not return as champions from Kuala Lumpur, but they certainly do not leave as a disgraced side.