Expectations for the National Football
A Review, and an Afterthought of What to Expect of Indonesia’s Eleven.
by Ken Jenie
The Final of Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup 2010 was held a day after Christmas, 26 December 2010. It was a day where everything looked good for the Indonesian national team. For the first time in its history the team permitted the use of nationalized players, where names like Cristian Gonzales and Irfan Bachdim became new heroes to the fans alongside of local favorites Firman Utina and Akhmad Bustomi by delivering their skills to assist the team to the final. The opponent was Malaysia, a team who was beaten by 5 of Indonesia’s national team’s goals a couple days before. For a moment, it felt as if the stars were aligned and Indonesia’s team was about to become champions.
90 minutes later, those hopes and dreams were crushed. All of the advantages Indonesia had seemed to have disappeared without a trace after Malaysia’s Safee Sali and Mohamad Ashari scored three goals into goalkeeper Markus Horison’s net. All of a sudden, there was a déjà vu of the 2002 AFF Cup where Indonesia lost to Thailand in the finals.
Three days later, the second round of the finals was held in Gelora Bung Karno, Jakarta. The national team won 2-1, but the final aggregate score was 4-2 for Malaysia. In front of thousands of Indonesian supporters the national team was defeated and had to hold their head up while watching Malaysia celebrate their win on Indonesian soil. Once again, the hopes of many Indonesians crumbled.
Soon after that day, it seemed like the end of Indonesian football was near. Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) fell apart due to the controversial dismissal of head coach Alfred Riedl, triggering a streak of ruptures in the association. The authority of polemic-filled Nurdin Halid, then-chairman of the Football Association of Indonesia, finally came to an abrupt end, leaving Indonesian football in an erratic state. At the end of 2011, Indonesian Premier League was established from the discontentment of the official league. There were two national teams, and both insisted on their rights to represent the country. The chaos resulted in nothing but disappointment. In a 2014 World Cup qualification match against Bahrain, Indonesia was beaten 10 goals to nothing – the worst loss to have ever happened to the Indonesian National Team.
25 June 2014 – the atmosphere isn’t as dark as what it was three years ago. There is no longer a dualism in the National Football Association. With one official league, the national team now consists of the best players available in the nation. And on this day, they were scheduled to have a warm up match against Nepal’s national team in Gajayana Stadium in Malang, a city that’s famous for their football fanatics.
Surprisingly, the stadium was only 20% filled with the supporters. Only a few patches were filled with supporters, the rest of the stands were vacant. In the previous match, which took place in Sidoardjo, only 5000 people came to support the team (14 percent of the stadium’s capacity) as they beat the Under 23 National Pakistan Team 4 – 0. “The number of the supporters watching the national team is really low, it might be because of the former team was not so good in quality, ” said recently rehired head coach Alfred Riedl, recalling the dark past of the national football as the main reason for the lack of supporters.
The match between Indonesia versus Nepal’s national team proceeded in a humdrum pace. Despite scoring in the early minutes, there was nothing in game worth highlighting. The team lacked chemistry, the passes rarely connected, many players made individual mistakes, and the the team’s strategy is hardly showing on the pitch. There was practically nothing happening after striker Samsul Arif scored the first goal – the game was completely boring. Complains of the dull field activity can be heard from a few supporters. It felt like the fans who missed the game made the right decision to stay at home. In the middle of the second half, some of the fans even turned their support to the Nepal side, cheering the Nepal team who played wholeheartedly. Defensive Midfielder Hendro Siswanto closed the match with another goal, ending the game with a 2-0 win – Not a good result considering the level of Nepal Football is clearly below the Indonesian’s.
“The game was no good, too many personal errors. It’s far from satisfying. But again, there is nothing to be worried about. This is only a warm up match and we still have 5 more months to prepare for the cup. It is too far to decide the future for this team. We do have some players that could not join this training camp due to their foreign football league schedule, hopefully in the upcoming camp we will have them to join and then shape up the best team to do the best in the upcoming AFF Cup.”, Alfred Riedl says to summarize the match.
It is true that the AFF Cup 2014 is still 5 months away, but not worrying about the state of national team’s is quite a difficult thing to do. Due to the recurring problems that happens to the national team such as mental-unpreparedness, internal disputes, and sporadic training camp schedules. The assistant manager of the national team, Wolfgang Pikal, confirms these problems, “The chemistry is not yet there because we still have 48 players that have to be seen, and selected. They also only here for so little time to play with others. The problem is always that we often have only minimal time to do the training camp. This time the training camp is only for three days before the match. So, that’s that.”
There is indeed still time to fix the problem and reshape the team before The AFF Cup starts. “Actually, it’s about the same as when we started the team in the last AFF Cup. At first there are only 3-5 thousand people who watched our match. But as the days gone by, people started to come and we hope that it will also develop in this time. We also have some names like Zulkifli, Bustomi who’s also participating in the 2010 AFF Cup, I’m quite sure they’re gaining lots of experience since the last time to share it with new names on the national team squad. Our target will always to sweep the tournament. That’s a pretty heavy target, but we know that we’ll put our best to get to it, ” said Wolfgang Pikal regarding the hopes in the team.
There are approximately 150 days until the 2014 AFF Cup starts in Singapore and Vietnam (Philipines and Indonesia were also considered as possible co-hosts initially). Though winning the cup will score smiles on every Indonesian football fan, the championship isn’t necessarily what matters most, at least not in the context of this AFF Cup. The tournament matters for Indonesian football because it is a chance to believe in their national football again after the recent turbulence – to believe that we can win, not for glory , but for the hope of Indonesians.