Commentary | Antony Sutton
Saturday will feature the latest installment in the football soap opera between Indonesia and Malaysia at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
It might not be the oldest rivalry in Southeast Asia, that honor belongs to Singapore and Malaysia, and dates back to the 1920s when they started going toe to toe in the Malaysia Cup.
If it’s not the oldest, it’s perhaps the most volatile. And football loves volatile. It puts bums on seats in the stadium, coffee shops and living rooms.
Everything you need in a rivalry is there.
They’re geographic neighbors, of course, which always helps. The countries have much more in common than the chest-beating nationalist bravados like to acknowledge; they prefer to focus their fear and loathing on the issues that they feel divide them.
Indonesians like to accuse Malaysia of stealing “their” culture to use in TV commercials to promote Malaysia as a tourist destination. Rather than asking themselves why they didn’t do it first, they find it far easier to blame the neighbors. And in this case, Malaysia fits the bill perfectly.
As arguments go they are along the lines of Germany blaming the United States for “stealing” hamburgers and claiming them as an American food.
In the 2010 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, Indonesia and Malaysia met in the final. The first leg was played in Kuala Lumpur and the Indonesians went into the game accusing the home team supporters of using unfair tactics like flashing lasers in the opposition players.
Malaysia won the first leg, 3-0, but the Indonesians tried, somewhat lamely, to claim the moral high ground by claiming the laser incidents distracted them. The fact is they were never in the game.
For the second leg in Jakarta, Malaysian fans knew to maintain a very low profile, keeping their shirts and scarves hidden if they had them at all. A hostile home crowd ensured that the visiting team went to and from the stadium tucked inside of an armored personnel carrier that was pounded by a symphony of rocks and bottles.
Despite being down after the first leg, Indonesians turned out in force; in part encouraged by the near-celebrity status of new pin up Irfan Bachdim, whose presence on the team ensured a steady stream of celebrities at the game.
Indonesia won that match, 2-1, but Malaysia lifted the trophy at Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta with its 4-2 aggregate victory.
About 185,000 fans attended both games combined, numbers Barcelona and Real Madrid would struggle to match.
A year later, the Malaysian under-23 team defeated Indonesia in the Southeast Asian Games final on penalties at the same stadium.
Indonesia has to feel that it is payback time. Despite not playing especially well in its group games a late goal against Singapore on Wednesday will give the team a much-needed boost of confidence going into Saturday night’s big showdown.
With the group standings what they are (Indonesia leads Malaysia and Singapore by one point), everything will hinge on the game at Bukit Jalil Stadium. It promises to be another passionate, tense affair with the crowd giving off enough electricity to power a small city.
In fact if you are free this weekend, why not head over to KL for the game? Have a few pre-match beers before heading out to the stadium to soak up the atmosphere. Malaysia playing Indonesia will give you a Southeast Asian experience you’ll never find in a guide book.