Is Indonesia’s name already on the AFF Suzuki Cup?

Sometimes you just get the feeling that a team’s name is on the trophy and they will win whatever may come – and after Wednesday night’s second leg of their semifinal against Vietnam it looks like the footballing gods have determined that Indonesia will win this year’s AFF Suzuki Cup.

For most of the game in Hanoi on Wednesday, Vietnam battered the Garudas. The men in white bravely repelling wave after wave of attacks, with nine to ten men behind the ball making countless desperate interceptions or hacking the ball away to frustrate the hosts as they looked for the goal that would level the tie.

Yet somehow, the longer it went on you just knew that Indonesia were going to break away and snatch a goal. And so it proved nine minutes after the break when under no pressure whatsoever, the until-then outstanding Tran Dinh Dong inexplicably tried to clear a Boaz Solossa cross from under his own crossbar and instead sliced it into the post allowing Stefano Lilipaly to poke the ball home from on the goalline.

It got worse. Vietnam were then reduced to 10-men after goalkeeper Tran Nguyen Manh was sent off, but they still managed to pull things back, taking the game into extra time with with two goals in the closing minutes. Vietnam rejuvenated.

Indonesia could have crumbled, but instead they went right up the other end and won a penalty when Ferdinand Singa was brought down by stand-in keeper Ngoc Hai. It was all somehow, so predictable.

This sense of inevitability is not without precedent, when Greece won EURO 2004 in Portugal, it became clear to most observers as the tournament progressed that the Greeks were going to win. As they plodded their way through the knockout stages, each workmanlike 1-0 win just confirmed what everyone suspected – that Greece’s name had been on the trophy all along. And no one or no team could stop them.

This Indonesia team has the same kind of feeling to it – a fantastic team spirit, perhaps instilled by their year in the FIFA wilderness, and a never-say-die attitude. That kind of unity is priceless, while they also have talent. Even so, Vietnam were vastly superior in every department, but deep down you just had that feeling that the Garudas were going to sneak it.

One could argue that no team would deserve it more, after all the Garudas have been AFF Championship runners up on four previous occasions and have lost out in heartbreaking fashion in the past – a penalty shootout defeat to Thailand in the 2004 final.

Of course a supremely talented Thai side, should they complete the formalities against Myanmar, may throw a spanner in the works, as on paper they have a vastly superior squad. But that’s what everyone thought with Otto Rehhagel’s side.

How could a rag-tag bunch of no-name Greek upstarts beat the likes of Figo, Ronaldo, Deco, Ricardo Carvalho in the final in Lisbon? But that’s exactly what they did.

After last night, who would bet against Indonesia doing the same?

Richard Hazeldine

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