Saturday, November 29, 2014


Good Evan! The Boy Done Good

For many, the performance of Evan Dimas for Indonesia against Laos in their final ASEAN Football Federation Championship tie in Hanoi will have come as a surprise. It is not often teenagers are fast tracked to the full national side without having played in their own domestic league but then Evan can be considered a special case.

Since Indonesia lifted the AFF Under 19 title in Sidoarjo in 2013, Evan and his team mates have spent the last 15 months of so preparing for the AFC Under 19s in Myanmar and although they lost all three games there are widely considered to have restored some pride for Indonesian football after years in the doldrums.

Like young players everywhere, Evan brought a freshness and an eagerness to the national team that came as a breath of fresh air after the more static, turgid performances that marred the first two games (against Vietnam and the Philippines).

You would expect that of course from a young player keen to prove himself. But Evan played with a purpose. It may sound daft but he didn't just play like he knew what he was doing; he played like he knew what he wanted to do next.

Let's go back to 2010 when coach Alfred Riedl included another youngster, Okta Maniani, in his squad at the same competition. His pace thrilled many but oh boy you never knew what he would do and, crucially, nor did he.

He came on as a sub in one game and started going the wrong way before a team mate considerately pointed out which direction he should have been going! And then, attempting to clear his lines near the goal line, he attempted an audacious overhead kick which thrilled the folks who thing Mexican Waves are a part of the football experience but give coaches heart attacks.

Evan on the other hand will be remembered for what he did right. His goal early in the first half for example, unleashing a powerful drive from outside the box. Technically, he did everything right, head over the ball, keeping it low. Too often in Indonesia, players put those chances into the car park as they go for the big welly but not Evan.

But for me the most thrilling part of his performance came when he did a Michael Thomas (Anfield '89 for the Arsenal fans) and went charging through the middle, defenders backing off, before finishing tamely. Rarely do you see that kind of attacking midfield play in Indonesia, many of his peers would have attempted to put their boot through the ball at the first contact in the outside hope they could practise their latest goal celebration.

Not Evan, he drove forward purposefully and again, you get the impression he knew what he wanted to do. Even the finish, which ended up too close to the keeper, was deliberate and an attempt at placing rather than opting for power.

But while Evan showed what he could do others reverted to default mode. One classic moment occured in first half injury time when Evan's Persebaya team mate Manahati Lestusen went charging forward into the Laos half and on into the penalty box. He had a couple of options in the box but on he went before collapsing in a heap on the pitch. Laos countered and only poor finishing prevented them from scoring.

But while Evan looked like he knew what he was doing, Manahati just ran. And ran. And hoped for the best. And fell over. He couldn't just slow the play down and take it somewhere to run down the clock, he couldn't look up and find a team mate. He just did a Forrest Gump and Indonesia nearly paid the ultimate price.

It is worth pointing out Manahati has had some kind of footballing education having enjoyed stints in Uruguay and Belguim.

There was a similar incident of carelessness and rush of blood in the second half involving Mitra Kukar's Zulham Zamrun. On as a substitute, he had done well to find space down the left hand side but his cross was just far too powerful to allow the marauding Cristian Gonzales to connect with and quite rightly the naturalised striker bawled out his team mate.

Zamrun has had a good tournament, scoring against Vietnam and again against Laos as well as providing an assist against Laos, from the same position as his uber cross earlier., with a defender turning the ball into the back of the net. Gonzales, it is worth pointing out, led the applause.

Both of Zamrun's goals were well taken, placed with a degree of economy and in the second goal, from a difficult angle. The wayward cross that earned the ire of Gonzales may have been out of character but it is unfortunately common enough domestically.

So, Indonesia won 5-1. Had they turned up against the Philippines they would have finished second and be looking to a semi final place but they didn't. Coach Alfred Riedl may have had his last hurrah with the team, his future remains uncertain, but players like Evan and Ramdani Lestalahu, who scored a brace, suggests the future of the national team is bright. If the next coach is brave enough to give youth its head and that is by no means a given.

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