Indonesia’s Makeshift Merah Putih Eyeing Al-Nakbah Semis
With the Merah Putih one win away from the Al-Nakbah International Tournament semifinals, manager Ramadhan Pohan says he is optimistic about the team’s chances.
Indonesia is second in Group B after beating Mauritania 2-0 at Nablus Stadium in Palestine late on Thursday. It must beat Iraq-Kurdistan today to win the group and reach the last four.
Mauritania is out of the tournament after losing its group opener 3-1 to Iraq-Kurdistan on Tuesday.
After Uzbekistan withdrew from the tournament, organizers decided that the best runner-up would join the group winners in the semifinals. Previously, the last four was set to include the Group B and C winners and the top two from Group A, which includes Palestine.
Ramadhan, the Democratic Party deputy secretary general and a surprise inclusion by the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) in the traveling party, said winning the group was preferable.
“It will be tougher against Kurdistan [today] because they are better [than Mauritania], but we’ll get a good result,” he said on Friday. “It’s better to qualify as the group winner.”
Indonesia must overcome fatigue to do so as the players only have a day of rest before playing Iraq-Kurdistan.
“Players’ recovery will be a problem, but we believe in our squad’s depth so that head coach Nil Maizar can rotate players,” Ramadhan said.
Against Mauritania, ranked 201st in the world and last in Africa by FIFA, Indonesia dominated play but struggled to covert chances into goals.
Midfielder Hendra Adi Bayauw put the Merah Putih in front in the 20th minute, and five minutes later defender Novan Setya Sasongko finished a counter-attack to double the lead.
Hendra and Novan were among several players making their international debut. Clubs in the official Indonesian Premier League and breakaway Indonesian Super League were reluctant to release players to the national team in the middle of domestic competition.