The rise of the Garuda, the fall of the Tigers

David Htan (R) of Myanmar in action against Mohd Syazwan Zainon (L) of Malaysia during the AFF Suzuki Cup Group B soccer match in Thuwanna Football statdium in Yangon, Myanmar, 26 November 2016. EPA.

TWO years ago, FIFA suspended Indonesia after the sports ministry and football association failed to resolve a dispute over who ran the sport in the country.

When it comes to controversies, Indonesia is never short of it. In 2012, the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) received a warning for the divided state of Indonesian football.

In that year, two separate leagues existed - The rebel Super League (ISL), which isn't recognised by the PSSI or FIFA, and the Premier League (IPL).

Fans and even some national football federations were confused over the state of affairs. Safee Sali, who was playing for Pelita Jaya at the time left the club, as he didn’t want his playing career to be affected by the divided nature of their football.

With these controversies, one would expect Indonesia to struggle but on May 14, FIFA lifted the suspension and welcomed them back to the international fold.

The suspension ruled the Garuda out of the joint 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup qualifying campaigns but since their reinstatement, they had the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Before that, they had thrashed Malaysia 3-0 in a friendly match in Surakarta.

At that moment, I knew Indonesia was prepared for the AFF Suzuki Cup and the players wanted to prove a point. It’s always an honour to put on the national jersey and for the Indonesians, not able to play international football for more than a year was a painful experience.

This AFF Suzuki Cup, Indonesia is proving to be a force to be reckoned with. They might have lost 4-2 to Thailand in a group game, but they did produce a mini fight back from two goals down, before inexperience showed.

In the next game, they faced off against a much improved Phillipines side and again, thanks to their sheer pace and intensity, they surprised the Azkals by holding them 2-2.

The trio of Andik Vermansyah, Boaz Salossa and Lerbi Eliandry were quick and potent and it was only a matter of time the Garudas notched their first win.

Against Singapore, they showed why they were once a force in Asia by winning 2-1. It was a joy to watch Andik, Boaz and Lerbi launching quick counter attacks with Evan Dimas, Stefano Lillipaly and Dedi Krusnadar manning the midfield with panache.

Their defence led by Rudolof Basna and Fachrudin Aryanto, which was shaky in the first two matches showed some resilience and with semi-final qualification, confidence will surely be sky high.

Aflred Riedl had a short time to prepare this team but with his experience and tactical prowess, Indonesia has exceeded expectations in this tournament.

You might be wondering why I’m waxing lyrical over Indonesia. Simple… Looking at their progress, I’m happy that they are able to bounce back but at the same time envious at the way they are performing.

Looking at our team’s performance, I wasn’t shocked that they didn’t qualify for the semi-final. Some analysts have said that Malaysia had an easy group and would be able to wiggle their way past all the teams.

They were wrong. We looked out of sorts and tactically we’re not on par with the teams in the group. Against Cambodia, we struggled with the prowess of Chan Vathanaka and their defensive discipline but once they lost their intensity, Malaysia, thankfully, took advantage of it.

Against Vietnam, we were outpaced and we couldn’t dominate possession. Some said we have to control their wingers to win the match but our analysts don’t seem to know that Vietnam is one of the best technical sides in South East Asia and their midfielders can really dominate the centre of the field.

On Saturday night, we again lost 1-0, this time to host nation Myanmar. Our players were listless and it was no surprise to see them booted out of the tournament.

I used to laud Datuk Ong Kim Swee for his work with Harimau Muda but with the national team, we only seemed to have regressed.

While Indonesia is beginning to find their feet, Malaysia needs a colossal revamp to revive the fortunes of the national team. We need a professional team, a management with sports experience and clubs that are able to sustain long and not rely on state government funding.

Wishful thinking but one can only hope. In my case, it looks like I’m hoping against hope.

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