Rocky road awaits as Indonesia makes history in Asian Cup

The Indonesian national soccer team has reached the top-16 spot of the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in nearly 70 years. Despite the achievement, observers urged the PSSI and the team to not get carried away.

Radhiyya Indra

Radhiyya Indra

The Jakarta Post


Players of the Indonesian men's soccer team line up on Jan. 15, 2024 to sing the national anthem prior to their 2023 AFC Asian Cup Group D soccer match against Iraq at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar. PHOTO: ANTARA/ THE JAKARTA POST

January 29, 2024

JAKARTA The Indonesian national soccer team has made history by reaching the top-16 spot of the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since the competition started nearly 70 years ago, although fans and observers remain cautious about the national team’s road ahead in the competition.

The senior men’s soccer team made it to the round of 16 of the 2023 installment of the cup, held in Qatar this year, after Kyrgyzstan drew against Oman in their last group stage match.

Oman was leading for most of Thursday night’s match after striker Muhsen al-Ghassani scored in the eighth minute. But Kyrgyzstani striker Joel Kojo equalized on the 80th minute, bringing the game to a draw.

Oman and Kyrgyzstan were eliminated from the competition, allowing Indonesia to squeeze as one of the four third-placed teams in their respective groups, to get to the knockout stage. The other teams qualifying through the same route were Jordan, Palestine and Syria.

Read also: Indonesia, South Korea, Bahrain, make Asian Cup last 16

The Indonesian team received the news with elation, as shown by videos uploaded to social media showing players barging into the hotel room of coach Shin Tae-yong in Doha to celebrate.

The 53-year-old South Korean coach shared that he was “very happy” with the outcome. Shin initially targeted the Indonesian national team reaching the top-16 with one win, one draw and one defeat.

“Even though [we qualified with] one win and two losses, the players had been working hard every match. Maybe that’s what brought on this result,” Shin said in a statement released by the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) on Friday.

“Without hard work, maybe God wouldn’t give us this [chance],” he continued.

Team captain and defender Asnawi Mangkualam also expressed his gratitude: “God answered our prayers and hard work.”

Indonesia will open the round of 16 with a match against Australia on Sunday. The Australian team topped Group B with seven points, scoring two wins against India and Syria and a draw against Uzbekistan.

Historic step

Praise came from Indonesian officials for the historic achievement, with State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) Minister and PSSI chair Erick Thohir among the first to congratulate the team.

“This is a new history for Indonesian soccer,” Erick wrote on his official social media handles on Friday.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo jumped on the bandwagon later on Friday, congratulating both the team and PSSI for achieving the record.

“I believe we can build our nation’s soccer achievement if we’re serious and work really hard for it,” the President said on Friday, adding that he hoped the team could beat Australia this weekend.

In the Asian Cup Group D, Indonesia won three points in the group stage from its only 1-0 victory against Vietnam, scored by team captain Asnawi’s penalty.

Read also: Indonesia revels in regional soccer glory after 32-year wait

The 2023 competition was the first time in 16 years for Indonesia to play in the Asian Cup. Indonesia last played in the quadrennial competition in 2007, but failed to qualify for the round of 16.

For this year’s competition, the national soccer team beat Kuwait 2-1 in the cup’s qualification stage in June 2022, the first victory against the Middle East nation in 42 years. It sealed the spot for the Asian Cup by beating Nepal 7-0 a week later.

While only getting to the knockout round by chance, observers deemed the achievement a commendable one. The Indonesian soccer team currently has the lowest FIFA World Ranking at 149 among the other 23 teams in the competition.

“Their qualification owes a big part to the strategy and quality of players that Shin brought to the field,” soccer observer Anton Sanjoyo told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

He highlighted the change in Indonesia’s squad since the South Korean coach took the helm of the team, including focusing on younger players.

“Though we lost against Japan, we put up a good fight. We also see how Shin implemented a good strategy when we beat Vietnam,” Anton continued.

More work to be done

Despite the achievement, Anton urged the PSSI and the team to not get carried away, reminding them it would be a misleading to call reaching the round of 16 a “success”.

“This is a long-term national project, in which we hope to see our soccer team in the Asian elite-level along with Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia,” he said.

The national team’s progress has also not run parallel with the quality of the domestic competition, where young players should have flourished for “the future investment”, said observer Yusuf Kurniawan.

Yusuf also believed Australia would be a tough opponent to beat, urging the Indonesian team to be extra careful. Australia currently ranks 29 at the FIFA World Ranking, behind Japan at 20.

“Indonesia’s chances will be slim,” Yusuf said, “but there’s always surprises in soccer.”

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