Malang, East Java. Injuries could derail Arema Indonesia’s shot at making history.
The Indonesian Premier League club will host the first leg of the Asian Football Confederation Cup quarterfinals against Saudi Arabia’s Al Ettifaq today at 4:30, at Gajayana Stadium in Malang.
The Crazy Lions are hoping to make history for the country’s football program by becoming the first Indonesian club to advance to the semifinals.
Arema is the second Indonesian club to play in the AFC Cup quarterfinals, after Persipura Jayapura made the trip last season. Persipura failed to go to the final-four stage after losing, 3-1, on aggregate goals to Erbil of Iraq.
Unfortunately for coach Dejan Antonic, the squad will be depleted.
Gunawan Dwi Cahyo, Yoga Eka Hera, Jejen Zainal Abidin, Putut Waringin Jati and Purwanto — are all listed as doubtful because of injuries.
Also, defender Ahmad Amiruddin and midfielder Anggo Yulian have been suspended for accumulating too many yellow cards.
“It’s going to be a tough match but we are optimistic,” Antonic said on Monday. “We won’t only be playing for Arema or the city of Malang, we’ll play also for the country. That will boost the players’ spirits.”
Antonic said he would wait until the final assessment of his players before choosing the starting 11.
“I can see that all players are ready to give their all for the club but I want to know what each player’s condition is like before I determine who will start,” he said.
If injuries and suspensions weren’t enough, the Serbian coach has also been struggling to find ways to keep the players in shape. Arema, which finished third in the IPL last season, has not played a competitive game since the campaign ended in June.
Arema did line up a few friendlies, however, including one against Singapore Armed Forces FC last week.
If there is good news for Arema, it’s that Ettifaq did not arrive in Malang until yesterday afternoon. That means the Saudi Arabian team will have a limited amount of time to adapt to the weather and the stadium.
However, Antonic wasn’t about to count his opponent out.
“Ettifaq is one of the best teams in the Saudi Arabian league,” he said. “They have skillful players too. We have to play all out and be at our best if we want to win the match. A home victory will make our life easier in the second leg.”
Ettifaq will host the second leg next Tuesday at Prince Mohammed Bin Fahad Stadium, in Dammam.
The Saudi team, coached by former Swiss international player Alan Geiger, currently sits at 11th place in the Saudi Premier League.