MALAYSIA - Singapore and Thailand will be fielding weakened Under-23 sides at the Merdeka Tournament and Malaysia's coach Ong Kim Swee believes the two countries lack respect for the event.
Ong, who will lead Harimau Muda out against V Sundramoorthy's Young Lions in the opening match on Saturday in Kuantan, told The New Paper on Wednesday: "The Merdeka Cup is a prestigious tournament with a long and illustrious history since it was first held in 1957.
"Maybe with the South-east Asia (SEA) Games coming, they don't want to show their true strength, but I think it is not right to bring a weak team as they will not be respecting the tournament."
Malaysia will be fielding their strongest Under-23 squad to Kuantan for the quadrangular, which runs from Saturday to Sept 14. Ong was given the mandate to pick the best young players in the country, including from K Rajagobal's senior side.
He has called up exciting talents like ATM FA right back K Reuben, PKNS FC playmaker Nazmi Faiz and the in-form Negeri Sembilan striker S Sivanesan.
Likewise, South-east Asia (SEA) Games hosts Myanmar have also registered a strong side, featuring national team centre back Zaw Min Tun, livewire midfielder Kyi Lin and highly-rated striker Soe Kyaw Kyaw.
However, six Singapore Under-23 starters, including the spine of Izwan Mahbud, Safuwan Baharudin, Hariss Harun and Shahfiq Ghani, will miss Saturday's opening match.
For Thailand, 16 out of their 20-man squad hail from Nara United, a third-tier club that play in the Thai Division 2 Southern Region League.