Ahead of AFF Suzuki Cup 2018, our 7th preview sees FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan look closer at Indonesia and their recent resurgence.
Considering they only just returned from a FIFA-imposed ban a couple of years back, it is quite impressive that it has not taken Indonesia long to pick up where they left off.
A runners-up finish at the last AFF Suzuki Cup in 2016 has been complemented with heartening displays at age-group level, where they reached the knockout stages of both the Asian Games and AFC U-19 Championship in recent months.
Given that they missed out on the chance to join Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines at next January’s AFC Asian Cup 2019 having not been eligible for the qualifiers, success at the upcoming Suzuki Cup could be their best chance to prove they remain among Southeast Asia’s elite.
November 9: Singapore v Indonesia (National Stadium, Singapore)
November 13: Indonesia v Timor-Leste (Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Jakarta)
November 17: Thailand v Indonesia (Rajamangala Stadium, Bangkok)
November 25: Indonesia v Philippines (Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Jakarta)
Not only are Indonesia yet to win the Suzuki Cup, but they also hold the record for most runners-up finishes having reached the final on five previous occasions without claiming the ultimate prize.
They did however capture the hearts of many neutrals in 2016 with their spirited displays, even beating the mighty Thailand 2-1 in the first leg of the final before succumbing to a 2-0 defeat in the return encounter.
Their record of eight semi-final appearances in 11 editions of the competition is also a tally only bettered by the Thais and Vietnam.
ONE GAME NOT TO MISS
The obvious clash to look forward to would be the 2016 final rematch between Indonesia and Thailand, which takes place in Bangkok on November 17.
But, given how much the passionate Indonesian fans add to the atmosphere of the tournament when over 75,000 of them are gathered at the Gelora Bung Karno, then the game to look forward to has to be one of their home matches.
And the better of the two is undeniably on the final match day when they entertain Philippines, who are a side also expected to challenge for a top-two finish in Group B, which could result in an even tastier affair.
Stefano Lilipaly – The all-action attacking midfielder really came to the fore at the 2016 Suzuki Cup, providing his side with plenty of drive and creativity from the engine room while also chipping in with two goals. At the recent Asian Games, Lilipaly was also deployed as a striker to excellent effect and he is set to cause all sorts of problems for opposition defences.
Evan Dimas – Still only 23, it feels like Evan has been around for awhile now and the upcoming tournament is set to be his third Suzuki Cup appearance. After winning the Indonesia Liga 1 with Bhayangkara in 2017, the midfield maestro enjoyed a successful first year in Malaysia with Selangor and Merah-Putih will look to him to initiate many an attack
Hansamu Yama – One of the real surprises from Indonesia two years ago was how steady they looked at the back, especially considering they have often been synonymous with a gung-ho attacking style of play. A key factor behind their new resilience was centre-back Hansamu Yama, who is slowly but surely establishing himself as one of Southeast Asia’s best in his position.
Following a runners-up finish last time out, another run to the final would logically be the minimum target for the Indonesians in 2018.
But would that be a realistic target? Certainly.
At their best, Indonesia should be confident in their ability to beat Philippines, Singapore and Timor-Leste and, with Thailand sending a second-string side, finishing top of Group B may not even be beyond Garuda.
Photo credit: Asian Games 2018