Sunday, December 04, 2016


Meiga's Brilliance Sets Up Hanoi Test For Irrepressible Indonesia

Enjoying the ride? Seriously, how many people not only thought Indonesia would reach the AFF Suzuki Cup semi finals, they would also defeat the highly fancied Vietnam 2-1 at Pakansari Stadium, a result that flatters the visitors. 

Under Alfred Riedl it seems Indonesia have added something to their game. Something that has been missing for many a year. We all know typically Indonesian football is played at 100 mph. The ball pings around so quickly it too must be crying out for breath. Time is an ethereal essence that has no meaning on the football field, everything is in the now or sooner. 

Unfortunately it isn’t always possible for professional footballers to always keep that intensity. Booting it long for the latest speed merchant may have wooed fans back in 2010 when Okta Maniani was the latest out of the traps but it is not a tactic that is going to overly concern more savvy sides who have better discipline and stamina and understand the concept of a 90 minute football match. 

We saw this against Thailand in the opening group stage. Two nil down at half time Indonesia clawed themselves back to 2-2 only to ship two late goals. The Philippines was something similar. Indonesia deserved to lead 2-1, they deserved more but all the time they couldn’t add to their lead there was a danger they would leave themselves open at the back and that is what happened as the hosts equalised late on. 

Watching the Singapore game in the drizzle at Rizal Memorial Stadium I sensed a sea change.Yes, there was the ever present threat from the likes of Andik Vermansyah, Rizky Pora and Boas Solossa. But there was more discipline behind them from the likes of Dutch born Stafano Lilypaly. 

Against Singapore, the experienced, disciplined yet oh so dour Lions, Indonesia were getting at them down the flanks, turning the Singapore defence inside out and creating spaces for the midfielders to get forward at every opportunity. 

While that was thrilling to watch what caught my eye was more mundane. There were times when Indonesia slowed the tempo. It may not sound much, it may not sound thrilling, but they were dictating the pace of the game and they were playing the game with their heads, not just their hearts. This game management has been missing so long from the game in Indonesia where everything is played at a harem scarem speed and a more thoughtful player would be deemed surplus to requirements. 

Ok so it wasn't quite the 'keep the ball' so beloved by the crowd at Arsenal who can be roused from their slumbers and toss the odd 'ole' into the still North London air as the players stroke the ball around 15, 20, 30 times with the hapless opponents chasing shadows. No, this was Indonesian players just slamming on the brakes for even two or three passes before looking to press the button. It's almost as if the game has become 90 minutes and patient possession has suddenly been deemed a good thing.

Watching Indonesia come from behind and defeat Singapore was as thrilling as the manner of the performance but while the fans on the terraces talked about Hanoi I don't think many believed the side could repeat that performance against the AFF Suzuki Cup's second favourite even on home turf. Repeat it? How about better it?

There were times at Pakansari when Vietnam were reeling. They got lucky big time with the award of their penalty and the somewhat odd decision by the ref to keep their player on the field after a challenge that was less tackle and more assault. The biggest danger as Indonesia kept pressing was even with their new found discipline they would leave themselves open at the back but defensively they were giants. And when Arema's Meiga Kurnia made that save towards the end...Wow. If this was English Premier League they would be creaming themselves over that for years to come. 

Indonesia's failure to finish off Vietnam could well come back to haunt them in Hanoi next week but that they are able to carry even the narrowest of leads north is down to Meiga at a time when Riedl was coming in for some criticism for keeping with the 26 year old keeper in the gace of more youthful challenges from the likes of Andritany.

With Boas, Ferdinand Sinaga and Lerby always looking lively this Indonesia have goals in them. Eight in four games so far. But after a shaky start when they shipped four against the Thais and two against the Philippines they have conceded just two in the last two games, and one of them came from a dodgy penalty. 

Alfred Riedl's men may or may not triumph in the cold of north Vietnam but they have united the nation around the national team in a way we haven't seen in 2010. Quite simply Indonesia are fun to watch, they have almost become the neutral's team of choice and an early goal at My Dinh Stadium could see them facing a nervy Vietnam side struggling in front of their own noisy fans.

I have been negative all tournament about Indonesia's chances and have been proved wrong on every count so far, I see no reason to change. An early Vietnamese goal in Hanoi and they have enough about them to hang on in there to reach the final. But Indonesian have shown in their last three games there is more to them than many thought and an upset is on the cards. Let's hope I'm wrong again!

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