Thursday, November 09, 2017


Bhayangkara Champions After Spaso Hat Trick

The circumstances may have been controversial but then what in Indonesian football isn't? Bhayangkara have been there or there abouts all season, impressing many with their open, attacking football. Coach Simon McMenemy has shown he isn't afraid to make the big shouts along the way for example replacing Thiago Fortuoso with Ilija Spasojevic mid season or placing his trust in 20 year old rookie keeper Awan Setho Raharjo.

Nine wins in 11 games seemed to have set Bhayangkara on course for their first ever title when they travelled to Banjarmasin to face Barito Putera. Jacksen F Thiago's team had made a name for themselves giving the leading teams nervous moments and indeed earlier in the season had nicked a 1-0 victory in Bekasi against Bhayangkara despite playing on the back foot for most of the 90 minutes. History repeated as they defeated McMenemy's men 1-0 again, their first loss since the end of July.

Four days later Bhayangkara had a chance to reassert their authority when they hosted fellow title challengers PSM but two goals early in the second half saw them slump to a second defeat in less than a week and suddenly Bhayangkkara were looking up at the leaders rather than down on the chasing pack.

Fortunately for the coaching staff their next game wasn't for eight days and they were able to concentrate on doing their thing on the training ground. Bhayangkara aren't a big club by any stretch of the imagination. They started life as Persikubar in East Kalimantan and through a series of tortuous, and not always transparent, mergers and acquisitions now find themselves in Bekasi, West Java, a dormitory suburb of Jakarta as a police owned team, reliant on off duty coppers for support.

This low profile meant the team were able to get on with restoring any battered confidence they may have felt after straight losses far from the media spotlight that would have accompanied more established teams. They were put through their paces ahead of their next game against Persela, a side troubled having lost their legendary goalkeeper Choirul Huda following a tragic on field collision in a recent game.

There is no sympathy on the football field and with newly naturalised striker Ilija Spasojevic, boasting a fresh Indonesian passport, opening the scoring the police backed side went on to win the game 3-1. Bhayangkara were back but their run in was tricky.

Their game away to Madura United was postponed at the last minute when the hosts were unable to find an alternate venue; they had been slapped with a stadium ban following an incident at a previous game. For some reason no action was taken against Madura for failing to fulfil a fixture but Bhayangkara now knew they would face a busy final week to the season with three games in a week including a fair amount of travel.

Next up was Mitra Kukar away, never an easy place to play. McMenemy's team came away with a point and with Bali United winning away to PSM thanks to an injury time winner from Stefano Lilypaly it seemed the title had slipped away. Then, in the hours leading up to the rearranged Madura United game, an apparent administration oversight (I'm being polite here) saw the title race turned upside down. Mitra Kukar were found guilty of playing an illegible player, M Sissoko,  and the game was awarded to Bhayangkara 3-0. Despite having an inferior goal difference to Bali United, Bhayangkara had come out on top in their meetings so all they needed to do was win in Madura and they would be crowned champions.

And win they did but only in the strangest of circumstances. Despite being banned from watching the game inside the stadium Madura United fans had apparently been told they could gather in the car park to support their team. This permission was then rescinded and a large police presence ensured no fans could get near the stadium. Kick off was then delayed, apparently because a it clashed with a wedding reception. 

They finally did kick off and Bhayangkara won 3-1 thanks to a Spasojevic hat trick. It was an untidy game at best. Paolo Sergio missed an early penalty for Bhayangkara, striking the post. Peter Odemwingie, so impressive for Madura United, was red carded after lashing out at Indra Kahfi. Substitute Fandi Eko Utomo was on the field for about three minutes and was booked twice before being sent off. Madura United ended the game with eight players when substitute Rizky Febrianto, who had pulled one back, was sent off with five minutes remaining.

Bhayangkara celebrated like champions do. Let the controversies and conspiracies swirl this was their moment. Winning the title in any country is no easy achievement, in Indonesia it is even harder. Bhayangkara can be criticised for a number of things but not on the playing side. McMenemy has built a team that plays good football and works as a unit. Watching them play you can see the discipline he has instilled in his side. His signing of Spasojevic was a master stroke as the ex Persib striker responded with 12 goals in 15 games. When Bhayangkara blinked Spaso kept on scoring. Meanwhile in the midfield unheralded South Korean Lee Yoo Joon has been the glue that has held the team together.

While the hoary old pros can look back on a job well done, Indonesian football can feel excited about the progress some of its young players have made. Evan Dimas and Putu Gede were well known before the season started but Dendy Sulistyawan, Ilham Uddin and Awan Setho Raharjo have been impressive all season while Jajang Mulyana has played with maturity in a number of positions to show his versatility.

The concept of Bhayangkara, a police backed club born from a number of mergers is never going to achieve mass support from the Indonesian football community brought up on their own local side with their history and traditions. If Bhayangkara were Thai for example where clubs have less history and bandwagons come easier the reaction to winning the title would be far more positive. And Bali United may have a sexier image, look where they come from after all, but they, along with the likes of Madura United, are doing their bit to shake up the cobwebs of the long dormant football scene on the pitch at least.

Simon McMenemy deserves kudos for the job he has done, for the team he has built and the way the team has played football. The coaching staff and the players have nothing to do with management or Liga 1 'forgetting' to send out letters. Their job is to play football and over the season they have done that pretty well.

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