It doesn’t matter who runs Indonesian football, you can be sure preparations for an international competition will soon descend into farce.
Whether playing friendlies against a bunch of random expats ahead of an Asian competition second only to the World Cup or Pelita Jaya’s Under-23s, you can be sure the national team’s plans will be high on humor and low on purpose.
Now the boys are in Yogyakarta preparing for the Al-Nakba Tournament hosted by Palestine. Ten countries have entered with Vietnam, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Tunisia, Jordan and Mauritania joining host Palestine and Indonesia.
True to form, preparations aren’t going smoothly. For a start, no one is too sure who the coach really is. Apparently Wim Rijsbergen, the Dutchman who replaced Alfred Riedl when the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) changed leadership last year, is still in Jakarta but doesn’t seem to be involved in this competition.
Aji Santoso, who led the Merah Putih to a disastrous 10-0 loss in Bahrain during World Cup qualifying, has been banned by FIFA for comments he made during that humiliation. The current boss is Nil Maizar, who also coaches Semen Padang, leader of the Indonesia Premier League.
He hardly set pulses racing when he said the only aim he had was for the team “not to embarrass the nation,” which may not endear him to players or supporters who feel the finger of blame for Indonesia’s woes should be pointed elsewhere.
He is doing his bit to unite the disparate factions by calling up players from the “official” IPL and the rebel Indonesia Super League along with several young players overseas who have Indonesian blood. That only 15 players bothered turning up for training on Tuesday in Yogyakarta suggests the coach has his work cut out even before leaving for the Middle East.
Not that Nil is in the best position to oversee affairs; he is in Germany on a coaching course and doesn’t return until later this week. The team’s first game is against Uzbekistan on May 17.
Preparations are following a familiar, chaotic pattern, with second-tier PPSM Magelang beaten 8-0 in a friendly. Next, Indonesia’s finest will test themselves against players from the State University of Yogyakarta.
Despite the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Sunderland touring the Asia-Pacific region this year, it seems no one in Indonesia is able to attract a top opponent for the national team to face. Contrast that with Sri Lanka, better known as a cricket nation, which traveled to Malaysia for a couple of friendlies; losing 6-0 against its host, the AFF Suzuki Cup holder, and losing 2-0 to local club side Selangor.
The coaching staff on the ground in Yogyakarta doesn’t seem to have much idea who will join training or who will be available to fly to Palestine next week. If you have your boots and are in the area, why not pop in — you might get a game!