Young SEA Games team pulls Indonesian football back from tragedy and humiliation

Young SEA Games team pulls Indonesian football back from tragedy and humiliation

Indonesia, who are ranked 149th in the world, have qualified for the expanded Asian Cup, which takes place in Qatar in January and February next year.

The last time they contested the regional showpiece was in 2007 as co-hosts.

Signs of success on the pitch come during a dark time for Indonesian football.

In October last year, 135 people were killed at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, when police fired tear gas, causing a stampede among spectators.

Tragedy was followed by ignominy when world governing body FIFA relocated the under-20 World Cup from Indonesia to Argentina because of opposition in the Muslim-majority nation to Israel’s participation.

That meant Indonesia lost their automatic qualifying spot for the tournament.

Indonesia may have beaten SEA Games holders Vietnam and won all four group games with just one goal conceded, but they face a stern test in the final at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium.

Seven-time winners Thailand eased past Myanmar in the semi-finals, winning 3-0.

Despite a fervent fan base, Indonesia, a country of 270 million people, has had little success in football.

They have qualified only once for the World Cup, in 1938, as the Dutch East Indies.

The game in the country has long been dogged by mismanagement, rickety infrastructure and violence in the stands.

A gold medal will not solve those endemic problems overnight, but coach Syafri said: “Hopefully this can serve as an encouragement, as a momentum for the Indonesian FA and Indonesian football.”