May 19, 2023
JAKARTA – The Indonesian men’s youth soccer team took home the gold medal in a dramatic SEA Games final match in Cambodia, on Tuesday, besting Thailand to end a 32-year wait to snag the region’s top prize.
The victory at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium is expected to be a good omen for the nation’s soccer fans, who have had to wallow in disappointment after their national team was forced to abort a one-time opportunity to play in the FIFA U-20 World Cup last month.
The Young Garudas beat Thailand 5-2 in a thrilling 120- minute game that saw referee Qasim Matar Ali Al Hatmi dish out 16 yellow cards and seven red cards to players and members of the coaching staff, from both sides.
Indonesia led the game in the 21st minute when striker Ramadhan Sananta headed a long throw by Alfeandra Dewangga at close range, escaping the reach of Thai goalkeeper Soponwit Rakyart.
Ramadhan doubled Indonesia’s lead in the last additional minute before half-time with a meticulous lob into an empty goal, but Thailand managed to shorten the gap through Anan Yodsangwal’s goal in the 65th minute.
Tensions spiked in the seventh minute of extra time in the second half, when Indonesia’s coach and players rejoiced and celebrated at the blow of Qasim’s whistle, thinking that the game was finally over.
It turned out that the referee gave Thailand a freekick, which substituted Yotsakorn Burapha, then quickly took to score an equalizer past goalkeeper Ernando Ari Sutaryadi.
Things got ugly very quickly after Thai players and staffers charged over to Indonesia’s bench to gloat in celebration, sparking a brawl between the opposing teams.
Despite the dramatic turn of events, the Young Garudas continued to press forward to regain their lead. Just two minutes into the first half of extra time, Irfan Jauhari scored a goal with a brilliant shot into the top right corner.
That goal led to another intense quarrel between the players and coaching staff, prompting Qasim to pull out five red cards: one each for an Indonesian and a Thai player, and three for the staff of the two teams.
Thailand then lost two more players to bookings in the 101st minute and 118th minute, respectively, when Jonathan Khemdee and Teerasak Poeiphimai were sent off for their second yellow cards.
With only eight outfield players left, Thailand was unable to stage a comeback. Indonesia then proceeded to widen the gap with two goals by two substitutes: Fajar Fathur Rahman in the 107th minute and Beckham Putra in the 120th minute.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, celebrating the historical win in Medan, North Sumatera, with his son and son-in-law and members of the presidential staff, took to social media to convey his hearty congratulations.
“I am so very happy, we have been waiting to become champions in Southeast Asia for 32 years!” Jokowi posted from a durian shop on Tuesday after watching the game.
“Our players have a winning mentality, a champion’s mentality. […] Congratulations to all the players, coaches and team officials. This victory is a result of years of hard work,” he said.
Separately, chief of the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI), Erick Thohir, who accompanied the youth team in Cambodia, took to Twitter to express his joy after Indonesia ended its 32-year-long gold drought.
“Thank God, our 32 years of waiting is over. […] Thank you God for blessing our players’ efforts. Thanks for the support from all the Indonesian citizens. This gold medal is proof that we are a nation of fighters,” Erick tweeted.
Many others joined in congratulating the youth team, including Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) secretary general Hasto Kristiyanto, who said the win was even more meaningful considering that Indonesia was not the one hosting the SEA Games.
Hasto’s party was instrumental in FIFA’s decision to strip Indonesia of its right to host the FIFA U-20 World Cup and its automatic qualifying spot. He expressed hope that this win would pave the way for the soccer team to win at even bigger tournaments.
“We’re proud of our youth soccer team’s efforts and the players’ strong fighting spirit. […] After the SEA Games, the 2023 AFC Asian Cup can be Indonesia’s next stepping stone to play on the world stage,” said the PDI-P politician, as quoted by state news agency Antara.
Hope for the future
The manager of the youth soccer team, Indra Sjafri, has expressed hope that Tuesday’s victory would make up for the disappointment of soccer fans following FIFA’s decision last month, which effectively robbed the national team of its first chance to play in the youth tournament.
Indonesia was stripped of its hosting right last month, shortly after Central Java Governor Ganjar Prnaowo and Bali Governor I Wayan Koster, both members of the PDI-P, voiced their opposition to the participation of Israel’s national team at the global soccer event, citing Indonesia’s opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Angry Indonesian soccer players and fans took to social media to air their frustrations, with critical comments directed primarily at the two PDI-P politicians. Sports expert Djoko Pekik Irianto said the Young Garudas should not lose their focus after this tournament, and that soccer authorities must use this opportunity to foster more young talent to secure a spot in the 2026 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
“I understand that there will be a lot of interviews and advertisement offers for the players, so it was very important for the team manager to maintain their focus in the game,” Djoko told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
“Of course we must not stop here. If we want to prove that we can actually secure a spot in the 2026 U-20 World Cup, we need to start preparing the Young Garuda now.”
Authorities have promised sweeping reforms for Indonesian soccer following the deadly Kanjuruhan Stadium stampede last year, which exposed years of mismanagement, poor infrastructure and hooliganism in the sport.