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Merdeka Day Special: Recapping Malaysia’s most memorable Merdeka Tournament victories

Back when we were a feared footballing nation.

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Malaysia celebrates 61 years of independence today, as shouts of ‘Merdeka, Merdeka’ would be reverberating throughout the country.

Sport was and is always a big part of Malaysia’s illustrious history. 

The Merdeka Tournament was a big part of Malaysia’s Merdeka celebrations, and the footballers responded by winning it 12 times in total (including as Malaya).

Here are some of Malaysia’s most memorable victories in one of the biggest tournaments in Asia back then.

Malaysia 3-0 Burma (1968)

Of all the trophies Malaysia won in the once prestigious friendly tournament, the first is always the sweetest and it arrived in 1968.

We say the first because Malaysia had been birthed from Malaya, after the inclusion of Borneo (Sabah & Sarawak) and also Singapore in 1963 (Singapore split from Malaysia in 1965).

One individual stood out in this tournament, and his name was N. Thanabalan. Yes, you read that right. Not the current Negeri Sembilan striker who starred in Malaysia's Sea Games campaign last year, but Thanabalan senior who is now 75.

Thanabalan was the star in that 1968 edition, scoring eight goals in six games to single handedly gift Malaysia their first Merdeka Tournament win.

Malaysia had beaten Burma (now Myanmar) 3-0 in the final and Thanabalan’s love for the game ran so deep he featured in the final on the eve of his wedding.

The next day, at the wedding reception, Malaysia team manager Datuk Harun Idris told Thanabalan’s new bride to “take good care of our national property”.

In total, the striker made 107 appearances for the country, but he will long remain a legend in the history books for the impact he made in those eight matches to inspire Malaysia to an unforgettable victory.

That triumph would slowly begin to shape a successful national team that would go on to be household name in Asia for the next two decades or so.