Friday, March 01, 2019


Piala President Returns, Excitement Guaranteed

It perhaps shouldn't come as a great surprise that Indonesia struggles to organise any meaningful cup competitions within its football calendar. If the domestic league isn't stopped by the government, delayed by elections or postponed following fan violence any forward planning fails there may be often fails to take into account international obligations like national team games, AFC Champions League or AFC Cup ties. 

Basically it appears that when a calendar is cobbled together no one really looks beyond the league and given the great distances clubs are forced to travel there, and the logistics involved in running Liga 2 and Liga 3, it can be appreciated running a national cup competition along the lines of England's FA Cup can be more trouble than its worth.

A nationwide cup was only introduced in 2005 when Arema won the inaugural Copa Indonesia, defeating Persija in the final. There have been just five further editions since then with Sriwijaya bagging three titles, Arema and Persibo one each. Technically Persibo remain the cup holders after defeating Semen Padang in the 2012 final!

It was considered a brave move then when the PSSI announced the cup, now rebranded as Piala Indonesia, would be contested again in the 2018 season with 128 teams going into the hat for the first round, which was drawn based upon regions, which started in May and went through to September! Did I mention scheduling difficulties?

As it happened nine ties didn't take place for a number of reasons, financial mostly, and of those that were played there were a total of zero upsets. Meanwhile we have now reached the quarter final stage but the Piala for 2018 is now on hold as the league prioritise the Piala President which has captured the imagination of the football public in ways the PI can only dream.

For a start the Piala President is a pre season competition featuring 20 teams based on five groups lasting a few weeks from start to finish. It also benefits from greater media coverage. Hell, even I forget Piala Indonesia is still ongoing, what about others with a more fleeting interest?

Piala President was introduced in 2015 as football came to grips with a FIFA imposed suspension and sought solace in a number of ad-hoc cup competitions. Persib were crowned cup winners in that first season as they defeated Sriwijaya 2-0 in the final which was played in Jakarta. That was itself a momentous occasion as for several years now Persib's supporters have banned themselves from travelling to Jakarta to see their team for fear of violence from local Persija fans. However on this one day tens of thousands headed up the toll road and filled the centre of Jakarta in blue to cheer on their heroes to a famous victory. It may only have been a stop gap competition but the final guaranteed it a place in the folklore of at least one football club.

Following on the success of the 2015 Piala President it was decided to introduce it again as a pre season competition in 2017, this time Arema defeating Borneo 5-1 in the final in Cibinong with the veteran Cristian Gonzales netting a hat trick. The supporters were taking to the competition in a big with PSS attracting 30,000 plus for two of their group stage ties and 43,000 watching Gonzales hit 5 as Arema come from 2-0 down to thump Semen Padang 5-2 in the semi final second leg.

Persija are the reigning champions after defeating Bali United in the 2018 edition, helped in no short measure by new signing Marko Simic hitting 11 goals along the way. The crowds again loved it, 50,000 turned up for one of Persebaya's group stage ties while the final topped 70,000. 

Make no mistake, while the Piala President is a pre season tournament it is no series of friendlies. It is no Emirates Cup, filled with back slapping, hand shaking, smiling bon homie. It is full on 100 miles per hour competitive football with the intensity of competitive football and while I would not want to suggest the groups are in any way fixed I think it is highly unlikely you would ever see Persija and Persib drawn together! Indeed there are those who suggest some clubs prioritise Piala President over the AFC Cup, so tangible and so immediate are the potential rewards.

And so the 2019 Piala President kicks off tomorrow with five groups centrered on Bekasi, Soreang, Sleman, Magelang and Malang. Liga 1 champions and reigning holders Persija have been grouped with PSS, a highly fancied Madura United and Borneo while Persib host Persebaya, TIRA Persikabo and Perseru. 

2017 Liga 1 champions Bhayangkara have been drawn alongside Bali United, Semen Padang and Mitra Kukar while Liga 1 runners up PSM are in Magelang along with hosts PSIS, Persipura and newly promoted Kalteng Putra. The final group is hosted by Arema and sees them go up against Barito Putera, Persita and Persela.

Perhaps Persija will be distracted by the AFC Cup, certainly they will struggle to replace the impact of Marko Simic who is other wise detained while Madura United will be hoping for some return on their heavy investment over the pre season. 

One thing is certain. The group stage format and the home/away legs in the quarter finals and semi finals may provide plenty of thrills and spills for the TV audiences but for old school cup romantics like what I is there is likely to be very little in the way of giant killing.

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