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Malaysian Community "Feverishly Excited" Over Merdeka Soccer Tournament In New York [BERNAMA]

Malaysian Community "Feverishly Excited" Over Merdeka Soccer Tournament In New York


By Manik Mehta

NEW YORK, Aug 12 (Bernama) -- The Malaysian community on the United States east coast was "feverishly excited" in the run-up to the much-anticipated Merdeka Soccer Tournament which was played out for two days on Saturday and Sunday in New York.

The main attraction of this year's Merdeka Cup - the weekend's tournament was organised for the seventh successive year - was the presence of a large contingent of 20 players especially flown in to New York from Malaysia. Some of the players had even brought their wives along with them, as one player said, "to provide them support and cheer them on the field".

Katherina To, a Malaysian community volunteer who resides in Elmhurst, New York, and is actively involved in organising a number of Malaysian events, explained that the soccer tournament called Merdeka Cup USA, held in New York since 2008, was the local edition of the Merdeka Cup held in Malaysia to celebrate the nation's independence.

"We hold the tournament on the weekend in the month of August so that we have a large presence at the tournament," she told Bernama.

According to To, seven teams participated in the soccer tournament held on the weekend.

The Malaysian Association of America (MAA), a federation of a number of local associations, organised the event with the financial support of a Malaysian logistics company called Wen-Parker Logistics based in New York which had paid for the travel of the players from Malaysia to New York with some of their spouses.

"The football matches were very lively," said Jimmy Tan, the president of MAA, in an interview. Tan pointed out that one of the players who had arrived from Malaysia was Datuk Soh Chin Aun, the country's football legend.

Even as he turned 64, Soh ran on the field and chased the ball away from under the feet of his rivals, much to the latter's disbelief, and scored some good shots, livening up the atmosphere and provoking a spontaneous applause from the large gathering of spectators, mostly of Malaysian origin.

"The matches were very exciting despite the advancing age of some of the players, but I must say that Datuk Soh was impressive even at 64. He was able to run and even dodge the much-younger opponents in the game. These friendly matches serve to promote friendly competition among Malaysians and bring us closer to each other in the spirit of sportsmanship," Tan observed.

The 200-strong crowd, which comprised mostly Malaysians, also included spectators from mainland China and Hong Kong and, of course, New Yorkers, with many sporting white polo shirts with the inscribed words "7th Merdeka USA Cup - Malaysia".

But all the players - and many spectators - also wore blue T-shirts, paying homage to the memory of Malaysian soccer icon Wong Choon Wah who passed away in January 2014.

The semi-finals and finals were played on Sunday amid strong interest from the crowds which had even invited some local sports personalities to view the friendly matches. Soh's team was declared winner of the tournament.

Soh played for the Malaysian national team from 1969 to 1984, and appeared in a total of 252 international games. Indeed, he also was one of the players included in the Malaysian national team for the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, in 1972.

"I have visited New York a few times, but this is the second time I have participated in the Merdeka Tournament USA," he said in an interview with Bernama Sunday night at the Asian Jewels Seafood Restaurant in Flushing - New York's Chinatown, where he was felicitated by the Malaysian community which also included the Malaysian consul general Abdul Razak Abdul Wahab who, although newly arrived, is becoming a crowd-puller with his cordial and friendly demeanour.

"I must honestly tell you that despite the impression to the contrary, I am getting old and am unable to run as fast as some of the players who participated in this tournament. Some of the players who were playing against me were as young as 20," Soh laughed.

Soh, whose team participated under the aegis of the Kuala Lumpur-based International Football Club, said that his team won the finals on the basis of a penalty kick. "But the best part is that we had some nice, clean fun.

The Merdeka tournament played here is a New York replication of the Independence Day Tournament.

"Of course, the Merdeka Cup Tournament in Malaysia is much bigger and attracts international participation, mainly from the Asean region," Soh said.

Alex New, a Malaysian who runs the Wen-Parker Logistics Company, which had picked up the tabs for the travel of the Malaysian players to New York, described the weekend soccer tournament as the "best one" so far.

"Besides the players who arrived from Malaysia, we also had a team that came down from Toronto, Canada, and of course there were the local players from the USA," New observed.