Friday, September 27, 2013


Semen Padang v East Bengal

After losing narrowly in Kolkata to East Bengal 1-0, Semen Padang went into the second leg of their AFC Cup Quarter Final at home full of confidence.

However, in a game of two forced substitutions it was not to be as the West Sumatran side were unable to hold on to an early lead after despite having lots of pressure and chances, in an exciting second half they were unable to break down the visitors' rear guard and with the game ending 1-1 the Red Buffalos exit the AFC Cup with their heads held high and their limitations all to evident.

On a sultry afternoon it wasn't a game for goalkeepers. East Bengal's, Gurpreet Singh, made a hash of clearance, the ball fell at the feet of Liberian striker Edward Wilson Junior who controlled well and surged into the box, brushing aside the challenges and finishing emphatically.

With 28 goals in all competitions, the long serving Wilson, five years with Semen Padang counts as a long time in the short term world of Indonesian football, has almost single handedly led the team's assault on honours. And while their lead at the top of the Indonesia Premier League maybe tarnished by the questionable quality and attitude of the of the other teams, their performances in Asian club competition have been exemplary.

And Wilson has been at the heart of that cup run. So when he was substituted just seconds into the second half there must have been a degree of apprehension among the home support. The striker has become as iconic as the local food and the traditionally pointed roof architecture. And Semen Padang without Wilson are not the full monty.

Admittedly the team can call upon the likes of Titus Bonai, Nur Iskandar, Esteban Vizcarra and Vendry Mofu while the experienced Elie Aiboy, the right wing elder statesman, are all capable on their day of pulling a result out of the bag.

With the big player gone, coach Jafri Sastrak, would be entitled to expect big performaces from the other players. But on the day, cometh the hour, no one was able to fill the big man's boots.

Titus Bonai, a star at last year's SEA Games, tried gamefully as did Mofu, but perhaps they tried too hard. Whereas Wilson is power and pace but can hold the ball up well, Bonai, nicknamed Tibo, and Mofu, have pace to burn but lack the Liberian's upper body strength and awareness.

Time after time Semen Padang found themselves in good positions only for the final ball to go astray or a wayward shot to bring on the fans' groans.

Contrast with East Bengal who saw Japanese attacking midfielder Ryuji Sueoka go off in the first half. They brought on James Moga and it was Moga in the second half who broke Minang hearts with a powerful far post header that levelled the scores on the day but put East Bengal ahead 2-1 on aggregate.

It was Sueoka who gave East Bengal the 1-0 first leg lead. He gets injured and subsititue Moga comes and puts his team into the semi final for the first time in their history. The loss of Wilson was perhaps the pivotal momet of the game with coach Sastrak admitting as much after the game when he referred to 'some of the confidence' draining from his players.

However, he couldn't fault his team's effort and indeed there were some stellar perfoamces from the likes of David Pagbe at the back and the tigerish Yu Hyunkoo putting his foot, body and head on the line for his team.

At the end it wasn't enough. Semen Padang had done Indonesia proud just days after the national Under 19 team had won the ASEAN Cup but there was to be no double celebration in West Sumatra.

With the excitment of Asian club competition behind them, they can now go on and concentrate on the IPL which they are sure to win at a canter. Next season will probably see them back in a reorganised top flight but it remains to be seen how this team will compare against the likes of Persipura Jayapura and Sriwijaya Palembang.

After the game, as the two teams exchanged pleasantries in the middle of the field a few fans halfheartedly threw plastic water bottles at the police guarding the perimeter fencing but their aim, like their team's, was off.

SOURCE - A slightly different version appeared in the Jakarta Globe

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