Merlion Cup to return after nine-year hiatus

The Merlion Cup will be revived in the form of a mini South-east Asia Games football tournament as the under-23 national teams from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines join hosts Singapore in a friendly quadrangular next month.

The June 7-9 competition will be held at the Jalan Besar Stadium and will serve as preparation for the four teams ahead of this year's SEA Games in the Philippines. The biennial Games are from Nov 30-Dec 11.

At yesterday's press conference, Young Lions coach Fandi Ahmad said: "Football needs to be revitalised in Singapore and the Merlion Cup will be a good opportunity to expose the young players to international football.

"All teams are equal and we won't fear any opponents. Hopefully, with good preparation and home support, we will play some good football like we did in the AFC U-23 qualifiers."

Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Lim Kia Tong said the tournament will be an annual affair, although it could toggle between a senior and age-group competition depending on its needs.

For this year's edition, Singapore will face the Philippines while the Thais take on the Indonesians in the other semi-final on June 7.

The third-place play-off and final will be two days later.

Young Lions defender Lionel Tan said: "We are very excited and raring to go and do Singapore proud by putting up good performances. We will focus on our own strengths and abilities and play to our coaches' instructions."

The Merlion Cup had been held annually in Singapore from 1982 to 1986, and once in 1992, and was widely considered the Republic's premier invitational football tournament. It featured countries such as the Netherlands, Australia, Iraq, China, South Korea and international club sides like Inter Milan and Lokomotiv Moscow.

It was last held in 2009 at the old National Stadium, when Singapore were beaten 5-0 by English giants Liverpool.

In 2015, there was talk of reviving the tournament after international sports media rights agency MP & Silva's $25-million deal with the FAS was announced in February that year.

The J-League's Yokohama Marinos, Chinese Super League's Shanghai Shenhua and Myanmar's national team were touted as participants but by December, cost issues saw MP & Silva pull out of negotiations with the Singapore Sports Hub over staging the Cup in 2016.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2019, with the headline 'Merlion Cup to return after nine-year hiatus'. Print Edition | Subscribe