Paul Williams speaks to Persija Jakarta captain Ismed Sofyan on the importance of the Indonesian club’s fanatical support and their AFC Cup ambitions in 2018.
Persija Jakarta’s AFC Cup campaign sprung into life during the week with a thumping 4-1 win over Singapore’s Tampines Rovers, in front of a record-breaking crowd.
Almost 50,000 filled the cavernous Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta – the largest-ever crowd for a group stage match of the AFC Cup – and the home side didn’t disappoint with a dominant display from start to finish, despite playing most of the second half with just ten men.
FT: Hat-trick #SuperSimic against @TRFCStags gives first three points for #Persija in @AFCCup 2018 despite playing with 10 men in second half. What a night! #Persija 4 Tampines Rovers 1.#PersijaDay #AFCCup2018 #PSJvTPR pic.twitter.com/01fD7DYwUR
— Persija Jakarta (@Persija_Jkt) February 28, 2018
Spurred on by the raucous Jakmania, a hat-trick from Marko Simic and goal from Rezaldi Hehanusa earned the capital-club their first points of the campaign after they lost 3-0 to JDT on Match Day 1 in Johor.
Persija will now look to use last week’s victory as a springboard for the rest of the competition, and according to captain Ismed Sofyan, they are aiming for the stars.
“Nothing is impossible,” the 38-year-old veteran told FOX Sports Asia when asked if winning the competition was the club’s goal.
“The AFC Cup is very important for Persija, because it is a very rare opportunity to compete in this event. We must try to get out of the group, and if later we fall at least we have tried, and I think the fans can accept that.”
The fans Sofyan speaks of – known as the Jakmania – are some of the most passionate anywhere in Asia, and like most fans they demand success.
Having played at Persija since 2003, in which time he has amassed over 450 games, Sofyan enjoys a special relationship with the fans and says, without their support, the club wouldn’t exist as it does today.
“The fans are the 12th man for Persija,” Sofyan, capped over 50 times for Indonesia, said.
“Without them we are nothing, because they always give us big support in every game. We are stronger and more powerful [with them] and we always give our best for our awesome fans.”
Stefano Cugurra’s men finished the 2017 Liga 1 in fourth spot after a barnstorming finish to the season in which they won their final four matches and seven of their last ten.
With the 2018 season to kick off in a matter of weeks, expectations are high that Persija, who have strengthened with the signings of striker Marko Simic from Malaysian side Melaka United and exciting winger Riko Simanjuntak from Semen Padang, might go all the way in 2018 and claim their first title since 2001.
But Sofyan moved to temper expectations, explaining that there is a long season ahead.
“It’s too early to talk about being champions,” he said.
“We must be consistent and focus on every game as it comes. If we can do that, I think we can achieve being champions.”
— Persija Jakarta (@Persija_Jkt) March 4, 2018
After Bhayangkara and Bali United surprised everyone with their form last season as they finished first and second, beating out the more fancied pre-season favourites, nothing can be taken for granted and Sofyan expects each team they face to present a challenge throughout the season.
“Every team will be a big challenger to Persija, because we are the champions of the President’s Cup,” he said.
“Every team will also fight to win the championship, so it’s going to be a tight competition in the league this year.”
Turning 39 in August this year, this could very well be the defender’s last season in Persija’s famous red kit and he reflected on what has been a long and illustrious career.
“I’ve had a great career,” the veteran said. “I’ve enjoyed every moment, and every moment in my career has been special, and I have been able to do that because of the support from my family.”