The stage is set for an intriguing battle in the final of the 41st edition of the Merdeka Tournament at the Darulmakmur Stadium in Kuantan , Saturday night (15 Sept).
Malaysia and Myanmar square off against each other in what will not only be a battle on the pitch but a tactical battle between two coaches, Malaysia's Ong Kim Swee and Myanmar’s Park Sung Hwa.
“I expect a close match with no quarter given and none asked. It will be a battle in the middle of the pitch as both teams have players who can turn the match around with a moment of brilliance,” said Kim Swee.
“What is most important is to remain focused throughout the match and not fall for any kind of provocation from the opponents. I have reminded my players to remain in control of themselves and keep their mind solely on the match and win the final.
“Winning the final will give us a tremendous boost ahead of the SEA Games and it is that kind of confidence that the team requires ahead of defending the gold medal at the SEA Games.”
Kim Swee is fortunate that Malaysia has many options in fielding the first XI, so much so that the Malacca-born Kim Swee is leaving it late to determine who to play against Myanmar.
“We have Wan Zack (Haikal) and Junior Eldstal who are doubtful due to an ankle injury and diarrhoea,” said Kim Swee.
“But putting that aside I have not given much thought yet to the line-up and will only decide just before the match. This is because we have players who can step into a role and play to the tactics we want and hence naming the first XI is a non issue to me.”
Malaysian skipper Mohd Irfan Fazail feels that raising their game will no doubt help Malaysia win the title.
“We must play at a higher tempo and at the same time cut out silly mistakes in the defence,” said Irfan. “At the same time we need to make the chances count upfront. Thus I appeal to football fans to fill the stadium and provide us with a boost to overcome Myanmar in the final.
“Past match results count for nothing, this is the final and we want to keep the trophy on our shores.”
And while Myanmar feels that they are on equal footing against the unbeaten hosts, it is their depth on the bench that creates a big problem.
"The stark difference between the two teams is the depth on the bench. Malaysia can make changes to their line-up yet it does not affect their performance," said Myanmar team manager Tin Myint Aung.
"It was evident when Malaysia fielded almost a new-look team against Thailand and yet they played with the same tempo.
"Even during matches their substitutions does not make differences to their style as all players are equally good."
As for Myanmar, they are looking at gaining revenge for the 2-1 defeat as well as taking a psychological advantage over Malaysia ahead of the SEA Games this December.
“I expect a close match and given that Malaysia has home ground advantage, they will start as the favourites," said Myanmar skipper Zayar Win.
"Winning the final is the desire of any team and it is no different for as after losing to Malaysia in the preliminary round match.
"Malaysia is a well balanced side and it will be tough tomorrow to overcome them. But our coach will come up with a strategy after reviewing the video of the match the other day.
"One thing about Malaysia is their fighting spirit and they are able to raise their game when the going gets tough."