Friday, July 27, 2007


Indonesia's report card (well, in my opinion...)

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Indonesian national team last kicked a ball in anger but the goodwill their fighting performances engendered remains. For the moment. Today’s good news tomorrow will be wrapping someone’s nasi goring. The Asian Cup circus leaves town on Monday and with it the headlines. The local football scene will move from the front pages to single paragraphs at the back as people find their attention distracted elsewhere. It is important for the Indonesian FA to build upon the momentum and interest generated by the Cup and to do so quickly before it becomes nowt but a memory rehashed by sad old gits like me.

On the horizon are the Merdeka Games in Malaysia at the end of August and the South East Asia Games in Thailand in December but as far as I’m aware no friendlies have been penciled in for Jakarta or elsewhere in Indonesia. The FA needs to get pro active in promoting the game more. A new breed of fan was attracted by the recent Asian Cup and to maintain their interest more needs to be done to attract teams to visit these shores. Hong Kong and a bunch of Liberians just aren’t good enough. Either as a challenge for the players or as an attraction at the turnstiles and playing overseas friendlies like the one in KL is a drain on the meager resources available. Why the hell do Indonesia go and play in the Malaysian Merdeka Games? Why isn’t there an Indonesian version? Featuring Australia among others? What interest would a game against the Socceroos generate locally? What message would it send to the football world at large that a high profile team such as Australia is prepared to visit? Win win…

Don’t get too excited. Indonesia are a long way from the finished article. While people locally have been pleasantly surprised by their showing fundamental flaws exist that need addressing to help the team progress. In the last ASEAN Football Championship Indonesia didn’t lose a game but it wasn’t that which saw Peter Withe out of a job. It was the lack of goals. The ability to kill a team off. Falling behind to Laos? Winning 3-1 against them was unacceptable especially when placed alongside Singapore’s 11-0 tonking of them.

Indonesia’s weaknesses were evident then and they are still evident now. A few days after they were knocked out of the Asian Cup Bambang Pamungkas lined up for his club side Persija Jakarta and scored after 6 minutes. At club level the game is geared towards providing him with the ball where he can do the damage in the box and as his 8 goals so far testify it works pretty well. BP is never going to track back and help create, he needs to be at the finisher of a move, not the instigator. At the national level Indonesia lack someone who can unlock the defence. The midfield snaps like a mob of terriers but aren’t able to switch from destructive to creative mode. The same thing happened in the Under 23’s pre Olympic Qualifiers, the same thing against Hong Kong in a friendly. 3-0 flattered the Garudas. Two goals came from set plays and beyond that they looked unlikely to create anything for Bambang to pounce on.

As in the friendlies, so in the Cup. The three man strike force showed a reluctance to go wide with the result play was condensed down the centre of the pitch where time and time again a 6 man defence had no problems absorbing the thrusts. Occasionally Indonesia went wide but the pull back was invariably poor, either behind or in front of the often lone forward. With the midfield on defensive duties it was little surprise to see the lack of support in the danger but frustrating none the less.

At the other end of the pitch the report is better. Indonesia are blessed with quality keepers with Persipura’s Pitoy and PSMS’ Horison both impressing. Syamsul in midfield was immense. Adding guile and forward movement could see him become an Indonesian Steven Gerrard. Ironically, given the lack of midfielders’ pushing on, days after he was dropped from the final squad Hamka Hamza showed exactly these qualities in a Copa Indonesia tie between Persija and PSIS Semarang that had a couple of us scratching our heads. For the most part Indonesia defended well but against South Korea they fell asleep once and were punished. The way the Korean forward was able to dance across the edge of the penalty area brushing off four half hearted challenges before releasing the scorer would have had coach Kolev tearing his hair out.

The question is can this team get any better or did they peak in those 70 minutes against Saudi Arabia? Is there someone out there who can provide the creative spark in midfield that is the difference between a good ASEAN team and a good Asian team? That is Ivan Kolev’s challenge as he considers the SEA Games and, next year, the World Cup Qualifiers.

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