Friday, June 28, 2024


The Changing Face Of Indonesian Football

At a recent meeting, the Liga Indonesia Baru (LIB), the body which runs the domestic league, announced the 2024/25 season champions would be the team which finished top of the table at the end of the home and away round of fixtures. This differs from last season where Borneo Samarinda were first but Persib were crowned champions after a play off round.

Such tweaking has been a familiar theme since I started watching the game so I thought it would be fun to do a post of how the league structure has changed over those 18 years!

2006 Liga Indonesia January - July

- Western and Eastern Conference with 14 teams each
- 2 teams withdrew during the season following an earthquaqke
- Top 4 from each group went into Big 8 playoffs
- Top 4 from Big 8 went into semi finals
- Final between winners of the 2 semi finals
- Top 9 from each group would enter Indonesia Super League
- Piala Indonesia May - September

2007 Liga Indonesia May - February(!)

Western and Eastern Conference with 18 teams each
- There was a lengthy mid season break while Indonesia co-hosted AFC Asian Cup
- Top 4 from each group went into Big 8 playoffs
- Top 4 from Big 8 went into semi finals
- Final between winners of the 2 semi finals
- Piala Indonesia May - January

2008/09 Indonesia Super League July - June

- Single division with 18 teams
- There was a lengthy mid-season break (SEA Games?)
- Piala Indonesia November - June

2009/10 Indonesia Super League October - August

Single division with 18 teams
- Piala Indonesia April - August

2010/11 Indonesia Super League 
2010/11 Liga Primer Indonesia*

- Single division with 15 teams
- Single division with 19 teams*
- Recognised by FIFA but folded halfway through the season*
- Inter Island Cup organised by ISL August - September 6 teams

2011/12 Indonesia Super League
2011/12 Liga Primer Indonesia*

- Single division with 18 teams
- Single division with 12 teams*
- LPI still recognised by FIFA
- Piala Indonesia organised by LPI
- Inter Island Cup organised by ISL 11 teams

2013 Indonesia Super League January - September
2013 Liga Primer Indonesia* February - October 

- Single division with 18 teams
- Single division with 16 teams*
- 3 teams were disqualified during the season*
- Season was annulled in October*
- Inter Island Cup organised by ISL 16 teams

2014 Indonesia Super League February - November

Western and Eastern Conference with 11 teams each
- Top 4 from each group went into Big 8 playoffs
- Top 4 from Big 8 went into semi finals
- Final between winners of the 2 semi finals
- Inter Island Cup 22 teams January - February 2015(!)

2015 Indonesia Super League April

- Single division with 18 teams
- League halted by government after 3 rounds. PSSI banned from organising football!

2016 Indonesia Soccer Championship April - December

- Single division with 18 teams
- Unofficial league unrecognised by AFC/FIFA
- Piala President 16 teams August - October
- Piala Jendral Sudirman 20 teams November - January

2017 Liga 1 April - November

- Single division with 18 teams
- Piala President 20 teams February - March

2018 Liga Indonesia March - December

- Single division with 18 teams
- Piala Indonesia May - July 2019(!)
- Piala President 20 teams January - February

2019 Liga Indonesia May - December

- Single division with 18 teams
- Piala President 20 teams March - April

2020 Liga Indonesia February - March

- Single division with 18 teams
- Season abandoned due to Covid

2021/22 Liga 1 August - March

- Single division with 18 teams

2022/23 Liga 1 July - April

- Single division with 18 teams
- League halted two months after Kanjuruhan Tragedy
- No relegation/promotion as Liga 2 halted
- Piala President 18 teams June July

2023/24 Liga 1 July - April

- Single division with 18 teams
- Top 4 went into play offs.
- Play off winners battled for Liga 1 title


Indonesia's Path to 2026 World Cup Brings Back Bitter Memory

05/09/24 Saudi Arabia v Indonesia
10/09/24 Indonesia v Australia
10/10/24 Bahrain v Indonesia
15/10/24 China v Indonesia
14/11/24 Indonesia v Saudi Arabia
19/11/24 Indonesia v Japan
20/03/25 Australia v Indonesia
25/03/25 Indonesia v Bahrain
05/06/25 Indonesia v China
10/06/25 Japan v Indonesia

Indonesia's tortuous road to the 2026 World Cup reaches its 3rd Round stage in September after the draw today revealed who the Garuda would have to come up against to keep their hopes alive. 

In the 2nd Round, Indonesia comfortably brushed aside ASEAN neighbours Vitenam and the Philippines but came unstuck against Iraq - not for the first time a side has come out second best against a Middle Eastern side.

No local rivals this time round and at first glance you'd think Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia will battle it out for the top two places which will see them heading west in '26. The nations which finish 3rd and 4th will go on to the 4th Round of qualifying and with the best will in the world, Indonesia's route lies via a 4th place finish.

So realistically, Indonesia will be vying for that 4th spot with China and Bahrain - one country with more than a billion people and another with a few hundred thousand. You never know what you're gonna get with the Chinese but when it comes to the minnows from the Gulf, Indonesia will only have to check the history books.

Back in 2007 Indonesia won their first ever game at the AFC Asian Cup when they defeated Bahrain 2-1 at Bung Karno Stadium. But that game is overshadowed by a qualifier in 2012 for the 2014 World Cup in Manama. Without going into too much detail, Bahrain needed to win by at least nine clear goals and Qatar to drop points to have a chance of reaching the next stage.

Indonesia conceded a penalty on three minutes and their goalie was sent off! They went on to concede a further three spot kicks and would lose the game 10-0. Sadly for Bahrain, their Gulf rivals showed little in the way of Arab love by drawing their game so the thrashing was for nowt. The game itself, or rather the result, has gone into Asian football folklore and even has its own Wiki page in case anyone forgets!

FIFA launched an inquiry in to the game but I have no idea how that panned out. 

Back to the present, when the draw was made on Thursday and you could see Bahrain would host Indonesia on the 10th of the 10th you could hear the groans from Aceh to Papua. They'll be hoping history won't be repeating itself!

Thursday, June 27, 2024


Indonesia Plans Ahead

I may have mentioned once or twice the lack of forward planning that exists in the corridors of power in Indonesian football. There are separate bodies which look after the league (LIB) and the national team(s) (BTN) and from the outside it looks like they don't communicate too often. This explains why the league will continue while the national team is competing in the AFF Championship or attempting to qualify for the World Cup.

You also get the impression there isn't much in the way of staff. Typically, when a new PSSI head is appointed, he brings in his own chums and they have to learn from scratch the mundane stuff like finding an office to fixture scheduling. From 2011 to 2023 there were 11 PSSI heads! And even when there is some stability there was no guarantee things would run smoothly!


At a recent meeting the LIB put forward a three year schedule which took into account the national team's requirements as well as domestic affairs. This is revolutionary stuff! In theory, one season will morph effortlessly into another one with teams able to budget accordingly, much like they do in the rest of the world. Hopefully, it means no more last minute changes to fixtures to accommodate internationals.

It's early days of course and I have yet to see any meat on the bones but eliminating uncertainty has to be a good thing for national team coach STY, Liga 1 and everyone involved in forward planning and it sets out a bold marker for the future.

Ah yes, the future. Notice the plan covers the next three years. Call me a hoary old cynic but could that be because that is what remains of the current PSSI head's time in office? 

Tuesday, June 25, 2024


The Wacky World Of Liga 3

For me, football is football. It matters not one jot if I'm watching a Champions League game between Inter and Real Sociedad or dropping down the pyramid to see Southwell City entertain Newark Town in a local derby. It's all about the experience, the atmosphere, the day out. In an ideal world, it would be following the Arsenal home and away but the ballot has ended any notion of being a fan and now, as a customer, I can pick and choose my games.

In Indonesia, people would be surprised to meet a bule who went to local football and local football fans would be surprised to meet a bule who went to Liga 3 games. I would be asked if I was a player. Or a coach. People would want their photo taken with this strange creature. Others would ask what is Liga 3 and to be fair that is a bloody good question!

You know when you see those shaky YouTube videos of match officials being attacked? They're probably Liga 3 games! But beyond the personal safety of men with whistles, Liga 3 is a logistical nightmare, even in a normal season.

Persijap fans at the 2020 Liga 3 Final
Normal season? The 2020 season ended in December. The following season was cancelled due to Covid. The calender was switched for the 2021/22 campaign. 2022/23 was cancelled following the Kanjuruhan Tragedy. So, yeah...normal!

So, with a tip of the hat to the indefatigable chaps who update the Wiki pages, let's get up close and personal to the third tier of Indonesian football and find out what all the fun is about!

The 2023/24 season ended in June with Adhyaksa Farmel defeating Persibo 3-2 in the Final in Cibinong after extra time. It marked the end of a campaign which had started back in August and gone through a number of rounds.

First up was the Provincial Round. Don't expect to find a fixture list, everything depends on the provincial football associations and out there in the boonies the writ of Jakarta is very far away - things get done at the whim of local officials. 473 teams started out in the Provincial Round from Aceh in the west to Papua in the east.

After the regional phase, 80 teams went on to what is called the National Round and they were drawn in to 16 groups of five teams each. Group A for example was held at the recently renovated, and renamed, Benteng Reborn Stadium in Tangerang and featured hosts Persikota, Kartanegara (East Kalimantan), Persab (Central Java), MBS United (Riau) and Persidago (Gorantalo). They played each other once and the top two in each group went to the next round.

Then on it's like any other competition. The 32 are divided into eight groups of four where they play each other once. Top two go on to the next round where they are still in groups of four. The semi final stage if you like has two groups of four with the teams finishing top going on to the final to decide the Liga 3 Champions. The top three in each group earn promotion meaning the 2024/25 Liga 2 season will see Adhyaksa Farmel (Liga 3 Champions), Persibo (Runners Up), Dejan, Persekas, Persikota and Persiku added to its ranks. 

Easy, innit?! 

Interestingly, all six newly promoted sides are based in Java. 

Persikota fans

Farmel, who were based in South Tangerang, won back to back titles having won the Banten Provincial Round in 2023. Another Banten based side is Persikota who find themselves back in Liga 2 after many, many years in the wilderness and who knows...could we see the Tangerang Derby revived in the near future?

Liga 1 and Liga 2 are slated to start in August. As for the new Liga 3 season...

If you were able to track down fixtures, if you were flexible and if you had the patience then following Liga 3 games would be a groundhoppers wet dream. For me, I'm at the age where, tempting though bouncing round the roads of North Sulawesi may once have been in search of elusive fields, I'm happy enough with anything relatively close to Jakarta!

Monday, June 24, 2024


Albirex Humbled By Rampant Sailors

As I prepared to watch yesterday's Singapore Premier League game between Lion City Sailors and Albirex Niigata, it dawned on me I hadn't seen a league game in Singapore for eight years and it's fair to say much has happened in my absence.

The White Swans have since won the league six times along with a number of cup triumphs as well as Community Shields. They have dominated the Singapore league in much the same way SAFFC did at the start of the 21st century and it's fair to say beyond a few whiney tweets where I bemoaned these upstart crows, their success has passed me by.

Their consistency is worthy of respect - it's not as if they've achieved it by signing £50 million players and sticking them on the bench. They pretty much reinvent themselves each season!

Back in 2016 all they had to their name was a few cups. And Home United were still a thing - a big club fallen on hard times and struggling to replicate the success they enjoyed under Steve Darby.

And here we are in 2024 and it almost feels like we're at the dawn of a seismic change in the Singapore football landscape. Albirex are now a fully local club, hopefully with a name change, while Home are now Lion City Sailors, Singapore's first privately owned club.

LCS have started the season well while Albirex have struggled to find their rhythm but surely many fans heading to Bishan Stadium would have expected a hard fought game between two top teams.

What they got was a very public visceration of a once great side. The Sailors started on the front foot and never eased off the gas and you kind of felt sorry for the experienced Hassan Sunny between the sticks for the Swans.

Not too long ago he was being feted by China after his performance for Singapore against Thailand. Chinese fans rushed to his restaurant, others sent him money. As he sat dejected on the Bishan surface looking forlornly out at the huge swathes of grass vacated by his team mates you could excuse him from thinking perhaps he might wanna open a new restaurant in Shanghai.

The Sailors were happy to occupy the empty spaces and, prompted by Maxime Lestienne and Shawal Anuar, they took full advantage. Even when Anuar went off early, they never eased up.

People like to look for pivotal moments in football, usually with the benefit of hindsight. Manchester United for example beating Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Final 1990 and setting Sir Alex Ferguson off on his generational trophy haul or a team meeting at Arsenal in 1997 after losing at home to Blackburn Rovers - they would go on to win the double.

Only the history books, or in the case of Singapore football where there is little in the way of literature, Wikipedia, will decide whether those 90 minutes in Bishan brought the curtain down on Albirex Niigata's hegemony or gave birth to Lion City Sailors as the premier force but for those of us jaded by one team's title monopoly, it does add motivation to reabsorb ourselves in the league!

Friday, June 21, 2024


Are Fans Ready To Embrace The ASEAN Club Competition?

Well, it looks like 2024 is gonna be the year when the much talked about ASEAN Club competition actually gets off the ground. Rather like the Bangkok metro, talking about an intra regional competition was great for column inches but surely it would never get off the ground? 

The Asian football nerd in me was at once drawn to the idea while thinking the logistics would prove to be an obstacle to getting it started. I love the idea of a Laotian club side rubbing tusks with a Singaporean side but among the wider football public, is there really any interest?

People are quite happy to stay up until stupid o'clock to watch the UEFA Champions League which benefits from wall to wall coverage and local media filled with generic agency produced columns but when it comes to the AFC equivalent there isn't that familiarity or name recognition to get the pulses racing.

When you add into the mix the short termism that too often surrounds club management who often struggle to get teams ready for the regular league games let alone the burden of further games, and travel, you can see the reasons for my cynicism. 

But, fair play, a draw has been made, a sponsor signed up and next month sees the competition kick off with a couple of qualifying ties

17/07/24 Young Elephants v Svay Rieng; Kasuka v Shan United

24/07/24 Svay Rieng v Young Elephants; Shan United v Kasuka

The respective winners of those ties will go into the group stage which commences in August and will go on to February 2025

Group A - PSM Makassar, BG Pathum United, Dong A Thanh Hoa, Terengganu + 2 

Group B - Cong An Ha Noi, Buriram United, Borneo Samarinda, Lion City Sailors, Kuala Lumpur City, Kaya Iloilo

Borneo won Liga 1 in the regular season while PSM won the league the season earlier. Interestingly, both sides ended last season playing their home games at the Batakan Stadium in Balikpapin. From a distance, you gotta admire PSM's optimism. Before moving to Balikpapin, they played their home games at Pare Pare which is about three hours north of Makassar but their recent AFC Cup ties have been played in Jakarta, Cibinong and Bali. And, last season, they were hit by money issues which saw their coach auctioning stuff to help pay wages!

You'd imagine the likes of Buriram United and Lion City Sailors won't be rattling buckets at their home games. Both clubs have deep pockets and both clubs seem to have no problem entering both the ASEAN Club Championship and the AFC Champions League!

With the new tournament due to start in just a few weeks a quick glance at the websites of some of the competing clubs shows no mention of their early games on their websites though mention was made on social media. 

Competitions, especially new ones, need hype and for the ACC to become a regular feature on the football calendar you would hope the clubs involved will do their bit to generate interest

Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Bojan's Fourth Title Is No Mean Feat

When you think of serial title winners most people will immediately recite the names of Carlos Ancelotti who led championship winning teams in Italy, England, France, Germany and Spain, Pep Guardiola (Spain, Germany and England) and Jose Mourinho (Portugal, England, Italy and Spain) and yeah, they done good! 

Not to belittle their phenomenal achievements but their success was achieved in fully developed leagues boasting more than 100 years of stability, regulations that tend to be followed and at clubs who do tend to honour contracts and have a vision that extends beyond the weekend. 

Aussie Ange Postecoglou is an Antipodean serial title winner. He won the old National Soccer League with South Melbourne and the ALeague with Brisbane Roar. He also picked up a number of age group gongs along the way and was rewarded with coaching the Socceroos to win the AFC Asian Cup in 2015 before heading to Japan where he inspired Yokohama Marinos to the J League.

As if that little lot wasn't enough, after Japan he headed to Scotland where he won the Premiership twice with Celtic. With that impressive CV it was hardly a surprise when big clubs started sniffing around. Somewhat surprisingly he elected to join the eternal trophy dodgers Tottenham where he has the media eating out his hand by saying 'mate' alot but it looks like his trophy days are over!

Meanwhile in South East Asia where leagues and their management are more erratic and clubs ebb and flow depending on local politics such consistency is much harder to replicate. 

Two of the most successful coaches in Indonesia for example have struggled in recent years to replicate the success they enjoyed earlier in their careers. 

Rahmad Darmawan won the title with Sriwijaya (2007/08) and Persipura (2005) as well as three Piala Indonesias with the Palembang based side but his own collection of medals has dried up over the last 14 years with just a pre-season East Kalimantan Governor Cup in 2018 added. 

The last few season have seen this one time serial winner coaching the likes of Mitra Kukar, TIRA Persikabo, Madura United, RANS and Barito Putera - no disrespect but hardly the biggest names in the league. 

Then we have Jacksen F Thiago. A lethal striker in his playing days, Jacksen won the league with Persebaya and Persipura (three times). Both Jacksen and Rahmad are of a similar age to Postecogelou but while the Aussie's success has seen him accelerate through the leagues, the two Indonesian based coaches have struggled to make a name for themselves in the uncertainty of a league that seems to make things up as they go along. 

The two coaches have something else in common. They both had short, unsuccessful spells in Malaysia

Little wonder then that coaches who have found success in more than one country around the region are rarer than hen's teeth. Yes, there was Steve Darby - did I mention I wrote a book about him?! - but he is in a lonely club. 

Funnily enough a pal of Darby's was an early member. Robert Alberts helped Home United win the SLeague in 1999 before 10 years later crossing the equator and famously coaching Arema to success.

Scotsman Simon McMenemy is another who can claim membership. Since arriving in the region he has guided Loyala Meralco Sparks (Philippines) and unfancied Bhayangkara to their respective titles. And, intriguingly, McMenemy, along with RD and JFT, had a short, very short, stint with the Indonesian national side - a poisoned chalice indeed! 

There is though one coach who could be described as a serial winner and that is Croatian born Bojan Hodak. In 2011 he won the Cambodian League with Phnom Penh Crown. 

The following season he helped Kelantan to their first ever title in Malaysia and in 2014 he won the league with Johor Darul Ta'zim - their first ever title success as well. Three titles in four seasons is pretty good going by any standard. 

Savvy observers of the game sat up and took notice when he was appointed coach of Persib when they were in the relegation zone and fans boycotting games. In a remarkable turn around the team finished runners up in the regular season and defeated Madura United to lift their second title in 10 years. 

While this piece is focussing on titles won it is worth pointing out Bojan was coach of PSM for the Covid curtailed 2020 season - they would go on to win the league in 2022/23. Before returning to Indonesia, he was in charge of Kuala Lumpur City and in three seasons there he won the Malaysia Cup, led them to the AFC Cup Final and the FA Cup Final before losing - not bad for an unfancied side which hadn't tasted success for many, many years. 

It's probably fair to say Bojan Hodak is currently the most sought after coach in South East Asian football but for now he will be enjoying his break before focussing on next season when he will have the small matter of defending his title and mounting an AFC Champions League campaign!

NB - this list is of course not definitive!

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