Indonesia football 2018 Review – Optimism shattered and a league plagued by same old problems


FOX Sports Indonesia Editor, Tio Utomo, looks back at the last 12 months in Indonesian football. The Liga 1 is still with dramas and controversies, but the national team was a huge flop at the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 despite some promise in the 2018 Asian Games.

2018 was supposed to be the year of joy for Indonesia as it promised tight competition among Indonesia Liga 1 clubs, optimism caused by the Asian Games, the AFC U-19 Championship that united the host nation, the AFF U-16 Championship and the AFF Suzuki Cup.

But, what football lessons do Indonesia take from 2018?

The National Team

2018 was a year of test for the national team — from the age-level teams to the seniors.

At the 2018 Asian Games, Indonesia U-23s played impressively surprising many. Preparation for the Games was long and the team did not let us down. Comprising of youngsters mixed with three older names — Andritany Ardhiyasa, Stefano Lilipaly and Beto Goncalves — the Young Garuda finished first in Group A — above Palestine, Hong Kong, Laos and Taiwan. However, the team didn’t go further than the Round of 16, where they lost to the United Arab Emirates.

The Luis Milla style of play that was tested in the Asian Games and the SEA Games a year previously gave hopes to Indonesian football for the main event — the AFF Suzuki Cup. Unfortunately, the PSSI decided not to extend Milla’s contract and the Spaniard’s assistant, Bima Sakti, was promoted as the head coach. The result? A big failure!

Timnas lost the first match to Singapore but won against Timor-Leste in the second. The Garuda lost again to Thailand in Bangkok despite playing well in the first 20 minutes. It was individual mistakes that cost them. A goalless draw against the Philippines meant there was no way through for us.

The AFF Suzuki Cup did not pass without controversy. The PSSI Chief, Edy Rahmayadi, accused the media as the reason of national team’s failure in the competition. “The journalist has to be good. If journalists are good, the national team will be good as well,” he said!

Following the Suzuki Cup mishap, the PSSI moved quickly in December signing Simon McMenemy, the former Bhayangkara FC head coach as the national team coach. McMenemy led Bhayangkara to the league championship two seasons previously and to third place in 2018. And the hope is that with new beginnings will come better results.

Youth Development

The situation was completely different at junior level. The GBK was a full house when Indonesia took on Japan in the AFC U-19 Championship. Despite the defeat, the tiki-taka style from Garuda Muda was a reason to believe there were better days ahead. The U-16s, meanwhile, lost to Australia 2-3 at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur under heavy rains.

2018 was a great year for youth development in the country. So many stars have emerged under the guidance of Fachry Husaini and Indra Sjafri. The future looks bright but the national team will have to wait to reap the benefits of it.

Todd Rivaldo Ferre, Witan Sualeman, the Bagas and Bagus and Egy Maulana Vikri are our best hopes of a strong foundation and worth keeping a close watch.

There’s also good news from Liga 1 as the league now has youth-level competitions at the U-16 and U-19 levels. Persib Bandung won both competitions this year, and their brigthest young star is Beckham Putra Nugraha.

The development of these young stars are to be maintained or their development could be curtailed.

Indonesia Liga 1

As always, the Liga 1 stared late. We all have gotten used to it. The country’s top division started on March 23. All season long we saw good performances from the nation’s best footballers.

The Liga 1’s development this year was so rapid that the AFC honoured the league as Asia’s most developed league of the year.
Dramas and controversies are part of the league, as always. Several clubs topped the league during the course of the season.

The competition was paused halfway due to a heartbreaking incident — the death of a Persija supporter in Bandung. PT Liga and PSSI decided to pause the league and imposed sanctions to involved parties.

Many players played impressively this season — Hari Nur of PSIS, Fahmi Al Ayyubi of Persela and Riko Simanjuntak of Persija to name a few. The latter was also a star for the national team.

Photo credit: The Jakarta Post

However, one problem that was pointed out was the holding of the league matches even when the national team stars were on international duty.

Saddil Ramdani played more games for the national team than for his club, Persela Lamongan. Persela played impressively at the start of the season but experienced a decline in performance in the second half of the season. Could this be linked to the fact that Saddil was not playing?

Towards the end of the league, some clubs were without key players due to their commitment in the AFF Suzuki Cup. Hansamu, Rizky Pora and Gavin were missing Barito Putra’s games. Beto couldn’t help Sriwijaya fighting to get out of the relegation zone.

The league ended dramatically as PSM and Persija were only a point apart at the top. In the last matchday, PSM had to pick up all three points and hope Persija dropped a point or three against Mitra Kukar.

PSM won against PSMS but Persija picked up all three points. The trophy ended up in the capital, ending Persija’s 17 years trophy drought.

Persija, PSM and Bhayangkara (standby) will represent Indonesia in the Asian competition next year.

What’s new in 2019?

Some things are worth waiting for in 2019: Persija’s performance, PSM and Bhayangkara FC in Asia (Bhayangkara will play in the AFC Cup if Persija qualify for the AFC Champions League).

It will also interesting to see who can follow the footstep’s of Egy, who has now made his debut for the Lechia Gdansk first team.

Simon McMenemy and his discipline in the national team is also to be looked forward to. The 30th SEA Games in Manila, Philippines, is where the U-23s will try to win gold in football. The last time Indonesia won gold in football was in 1991 — also in Manila.

FOX Sports Asia Report Card Rating: C+

The IndonesiaU-23s made us dream in the 2018 Asian Games but the hopes were shattered to pieces in the AFF Suzuki Cup.

The schedule of Liga 1 that until now hasn’t been in line with the international match calendar is also this year’s major concern.

However, young players are developing rapidly — the U-16 and U-19 leagues are fully functioning.

The fact that the national team won’t be competing in a major tournament (only in the FIFA World Cup qualification) give PSSI time to set long-term strategies for the national team and to sort out the recurring Liga 1 problems.