Friday, May 25, 2018
Bauman And Ezechiel On Fire as Persib Prepare For Bali Weekend
It's difficult to read too much into the Liga 1 table at the moment. Halfway through round 10 just nine points separate leaders Persipura (17 points) from bottom club PSIS. The fine art of defending seems to have gone walkabout with just three teams having conceded less than 10 goals so far and two of them (Perseru and Persija) in the bottom four.
While defensive coaches may be tearing their hair out at the other end forwards are having the time of their life and none more so than the new partnership at Persib.
Former Johor Darul Ta'zim coach Mario Gomez probably found Persib a bit of a culture shock after his trophy laden spell in Malaysia but slowly he is putting together a team built a round a core of Persib veterans and an exciting forward line that mixes Argentine flair with Chadian flair.
Ezechiel N'Douasel joined Persib for the second half of last season managing just four goals in his 14 Liga 1 games. Gomez however must have seen something he liked in the 30 year old striker as he didn't hesitate to keep him on for the 2018.
For a striker partner Gomez tapped into his knowledge of the game back in his homeland and recruited Jonathon Bauman, a 27 year old forward who played in Greece last season.
Despite some familiar faces in the middle of the field Persib started the season slowly. They failed to qualify from their group in the President Cup, finishing third and scoring a single goal in their three games and carried their struggles into the Liga 1 season, drawing their first game of the season at home to PS Tira 1-1 after the visitors equalised deep into injury time, Ezechiel scoring for the Maung Bandung in the first half.
Next up for Persib was an away game in Palembang and despite Ezechiel scoring again Gomez's team were left licking their wounds again as they lost 3-1. It wasn't until the third game of the season that Persib secured their first win of the season when they defeated Mitra Kukar 2-0 at Gelora Api Bandung Stadium. This time Ezechiel failed to get on the scoresheet but his partner Bauman did, opening the scoring early in the second half before Oh In-Kyun made it two on the hour mark.
Despite the poor start the Persib supporters were keeping the faith, more than 32,000 saw the game with Mitra Kukar, a club not blessed with stardust. However any hopes a corner had been turned were soon dashed when Persib could only draw 2-2 away at Arema despite a brace from Ezechiel in a game marred by serious crowd disorder.
If there was any consolation for Gomez it would have come from the form of Ezechiel, four goals in four games but late goals against PS Tira and Arema had cost the club four goals.
Persib returned to winning ways with a 3-1 victory over Borneo on their own patch and again Ezechiel bagged a brace with Bauman netting the other. With a fully functioning strike partnership Gomez surely could look forward to guiding Persib up the table. Unfortunately Persib's away doay woes continued in their next game, losing 2-1 away to Madura United with Bauman scoring a late consolation.
With the game away to Persebaya postponed in the wake of the terrorist atrocities there Gomez could look forward to back to back home games and with his forwards now in full flow luxuriated in two victories against tough opposition (Persipura 2-0 and PSM 3-0) and just as crucially two blank sheets.
Thanks to the tightness of the Liga 1 table I referenced earlier Persib are now 6th in the table and should they win their next game they could go joint top of the table. The Bobotoh won't be getting too excited though; their next opponents are Bali United. Away. And Persib haven't won an away game since last September.
Bali United are having their own problems this season, failing to rediscover the consistency of the 2017 campaign but at least Gomez, and the Bandung faithful, go into the game knowing Ezechiel and Bauman are on fire!
Ezechiel 9 goals in 9 games
Bauman 5 goals in 7 games
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
The Singapore Cha Cha
Honestly can't remember the last time I wrote about Singapore football' it was probably a whine about Albirex Niigata and the lack of any domestic rival being able to take them on. There is a new leadership at the Football Association and apparently a rebranded league, featuring the same number of teams, is a sign of a new era but let's not go there.
Rather, let's look at a couple of events from Lion City over the last couple of days which are, hopefully, more meaningful in the long run than any name change of the local league.
1 Step Forward
Well, what can we say about Home United? After they defeated Persija 3-2 in the first leg of the AFC Cup ASEAN Zone Semi Final surely those two away goals by Ramdani Lestalahu were enough to give the Macan Kemayoran the edge in Jakarta? And come on, how many Home United players are familiar with 62,000 fans getting behind their team in the intimidating atmosphere that can envelope Bung Karno at times?
One of the few Singaporeans who did know a thing about playing in front of a hostile, baying crowd was former Persib striker Shahril Ishak and he played his part in this thrilling tie, scoring twice and missing a penalty to set up the minnows for a famous win. Yes, we can point to Persija losing their totemic defender Jamerson towards the end of the first half and yes, they were without Andritany. But this game was lost over two legs and Home thoroughly deserved their triumph.
From a commercial point of view no doubt the AFC would have preferred to have seen Persija go through, a packed Bung Karno with the Jakmania in full voice makes for better TV than a few uncles at Jalan Besar eating chicken and rice but it is kind of nice to see football being won on the pitch rather than in respective balance sheets.
2 Steps Forward
I have to hold up my hands and say yep, I am an unabashed Noh Alam Shah. It's a shame he is more fondly thought of in Indonesia than he ever was in Singapore. Since he hung up his boots for the last time Singapore football has been a poorer place for his absence and I have often felt he could at least have been given a media gig once in a while.
I was delighted therefore to hear that the former Tampines Rovers striker has been called up by the FA and asked to help new acting coach Fandi Ahmad as the Lions prepare for the AFF Suzuki Cup later this year. Moaning ninnies could argue what does NAS bring to the table? After all he hasn't set the world on fire recently (fortunately). But just imagine his presence in the dressing room ahead of big games. Home United have proved Singapore teams have what it takes to go toe to toe with the big boys, the appointment of NAS can only inject more spine into the game and hopefully excitement in to the fans and media.
1 Step Sideways
As mentioned the Lions have turned to Fandi Ahmad to take Singapore to the AFF Suzuki Cup. Apparently he is a stop gap, a short term measure. Why? This has happened before, the FA appointing a coach insisting it wasn't a long term appointment? What is with this short termism? Either give him the job and a contract or not, don't fanny round with short term this, short term that.
1 Step Backwards
Albirex Niigata have won the last three Singapore Cups, the last three League Cups, the last three Community Shields and the last two league titles. They are currently top of the league table with seven wins from seven games, 11 points clear of their nearest rivals. Last month they beat Home United, yeap them that beat Persija, 6-1! To paraphrase a long dead English monarch who will challenge these serial victors?
Friday, May 04, 2018
Piala Indonesia Returns
The logistical nightmare that is the Piala Indonesia is back after an absence of six years. If you think the normal league season is a nightmare spare a thought for this domestic behemoth that makes the AFC Cup look like a spontaneous play ground kick around.
The competition started life as Copa Indonesia back in 2006 under the sponsorship of a tobacco company, my things have changed, and Arema won the first two competitions. Sriwijaya then won it three years on the spin before Persibo lifted the trophy in 2012, the last time it was held.
And now it's back. Eighteen Liga 1 teams, 24 from Liga 2 and 86 Liga 3 teams have been divided into 16 geographical zones, a total of 128 teams starting out on a journey that will lead to the final being played in December. Or January. There are no fixed dates for the ties to be played meaning it will have to be squeezed in alongside the regular Liga season. And the Asian Games. And the AFF Suzuki Cup. But I'm sure that has all be taken into consideration by the organisers! Be that as it may, expect a few teams to fall by the wayside...
First round ties are expected to start next week with a couple of games slated for 8th May with holders Persibo hosting Madura United and Arema travelling to Blitar to take on PSBK. It promisies to be quite a season for football fans in the East Java city with no less than four teams competing in the competition; Blitar Poetra host PSMP, PSBI entertain Persebaya while Liga 2 side Blitar United make the short journey to Madiun Putra.
As is the way with good cup competitions around the world there are a number of eye catching ties pitching minnows against the big boys with Kuala Nanggroe hosting PSMS being a fine example of the genre. Another good measure of a domestic cup is the need for an atlas to find some of the teams!
There are a couple of derby matches in the Sumatra region which catch the eye. Persiraja host Aceh United while PSPS Riau will be taking to the boats to take on 757 Kepri Jaya. Three time cup winners Sriwijaya will also take to the high seas as they travel to Bangka to take on PS Bangka Selection.
Is there such a thing as a Sunda Straits Derby? Perhaps there is now as SS Lampung will be hosting Cilegon United meaning the Cilegon squad and their supporters will be crossing the narrow water way for the tie. Perhaps we could call it the Krakatau Derby?
Moving closer to Jakarta an intriguing match up sees Persitangsel hosting Liga 1 champions Bhayangkara. I have no idea where this tie will be played; should it be played at the Cops' new base in South Jakarta we can expect a healthy following of Persitangsel fans to make the short journey.
Persija, flying high in Liga 1 and the AFC Cup have been drawn away to Persikabo, an easy trek south to the Pakansari Stadium for the Jakmania hoardes if the tie is not moved.
In West Java Persib will travel to Cimahi ensuring a large away following while Bogor host Persika Karawang coached by Ricky Nelson.
Another of those local derbies that can only occur in Indonesia sees Persiba Bantul play host to PS Tira at Sultan Agung Stadium. Both teams of course share the same stadium since PS Tira rebranded themselves and moved to the town ahead of the new season.
Further east sees a Madura Derby with Persepam taking on Madura while one tie that catches the eye sees Persekabpas host Persid. Don't ask why, it just does!
Moving beyond Java and things get very interesting with PS Sumbawa Barta playing Bali United, Sidrap United hosting PSM, Persiter v Celebest and Yahukimo taking on Persipura.
The complete draw can be found here.
An exciting competition with some nervy ties awaiting the big boys, it is good to have the Piala Indonesia back!
Wednesday, May 02, 2018
Struggling Arema Face Tough Surabaya Trip
With just three separating the top 10 clubs in Liga 1 after the opening six rounds it is fair to say the first few weeks of the new season have been pretty close. No team remains unbeaten, likewise no team is winless and even the bottom sides PSIS and Arema are just six points off top spot. Persipura, three time ISL champions, are a point clear of Persija, Madura United, PSM and Barito Putera but the Macan Kemayoran have a game in hand following the postponement of their high octane clash with Persib last week.
This weekend's fixtures sees Persija again take a back seat as they are given time off to prepare for their AFC Cup tie with Home United, an example of the upside thinking in Indonesian football where you may recall both Persija and Bali United were forced to compete in both the AFC Cup and the pre season competition President Cup.
The stand out game in Round seven sees the East Java giants Persebaya and Arema go toe to toe at the Bung Tomo Stadium in Surabaya. There are usually fireworks when these two meet and this weekend's game, their first in the top flight since god knows; the last few years have seen these clubs blighted by confusion over which club is the 'real' one, a hangover of the IPL days. Suffice to say the rivalry hasn't gone away and this week any motor vehicles in the Surabaya area with a Malang number plate are in for a torrid time.
Arema haven't started the season well and current;y sit 17th on goal difference ahead of newly promoted PSIS. The Crazy Lions are not the team they once were. The money seems to have dried up and many supporters have long since turned their back on the team. Just over 12,000 saw their opening game of the season against Mitra Kukar where the visitors came from 2-0 down to score twice in the last eight minutes and secure a point.
Two defeats on their travels followed, away to Persija and Borneo, before Persib came to Malang and this time the supporters did show up, more than 31,000 witnessed this clash between the 'Thine Enemy is Mine Enemy' Derby. This time it was the home team which escaped with a point following Balsa Bozovic's late equaliser but that didn't stop a mass pitch invasion as Arema fans invaded the pitch following a controversial decision. Riot police used tear gas to calm things down and unsurprisingly this only made things worse with several supporters receiving injuries and reports of fatalities.
The come back however hinted at a mental strength among the team and for their next game away to Madura United, another potentially tricky road trip, Arema set off feeling confident about their chances. With 24 minutes remaining they were leading 2-1 but Madura can be a fortress and the home side fought back to claim the points with two late goals leaving Arema bottom of the table and licking their wounds.
Just over 3,000 made the effort for the next home game against Persipura, a game that saw the Crazy Lions race into a three goal lead and run out 3-1 victors, inflicting the first loss of the season on the table topping Black Pearls with Dedik Setiawan netting twice.
It is too early to see whether a corner has been turned; it hasn't been an easy start to the season for Arema with tough away games and things aren't going to get any easier with Sunday's trip up the jalan tol to Surabaya. Despite boasting an experienced rearguard Arema have shipped 13 goals this season, the worst in the league. At the same time only Madura United have scored more goals. Coach Joko Susilo will be looking to the likes of Arthur Cunha and Yudi Purwoko to show all their experience in the cauldron like atmosphere at the Bung Tomo if Arema are to get anything out of the game