Indonesia’s young players have a chance to restore the country’s football pride as play in Group E of Asian Football Confederation Under-22 Championship qualifying starts on Thursday in Pekanbaru, Riau.
The Young Garuda was drawn in Group E with tough opponents, which includes regional powerhouses Australia and Japan, Southeast Asian rivals Singapore and East Timor, and Macau. The top two teams will qualify for the tournament’s proper in 2013, along with the third-best finisher among seven qualifying groups.
Infighting at the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) has stolen the sporting headlines in the country of late, but this tournament gives the local side an opportunity to show that there is more to the country’s favorite sport than squabbling.
Indonesia faces a tough opener tonight at Riau Main Stadium in Pekanbaru as it takes on Australia at 7:30 p.m. SCTV will broadcast each of Indonesia’s matches.
But U-22 national team coach Aji Santoso said his side was well-prepared and that he was familiar with the Young Socceroos’ style of play.
“We’re ready to play Australia and I’m confident that the boys will pose a tough challenge for their opponent,” Aji said on the official PSSI website on Wednesday. “We know Australia is a very good team, but our boys have strong will and they’re eager to show their best play.”
The road to this tournament has been anything but smooth.
Aji found it hard to assemble his team. A memorandum of understanding signed by the PSSI and the Indonesian Football Savior Committee (KPSI) in Kuala Lumpur last month didn’t help him secure the best players because KPSI chairman La Nyalla Mattalitti said Super League clubs could not allow their players to join the squad.
With limited options, Aji had to give players from amateur clubs the chance to make the U-22 team.
They will likely have them a chance to play as the coach plans to field midfielders Fandi Eko Utomo from East Java and Dany Saputra of Persedikab Kediri in the opening match.
Aji will rely heavily on Persebaya Surabaya star Andik Vermansyah, who has been picked as team captain, and the forward promised to repay the coach’s trust.
“We will fight. It’s an important tournament and we bear the Merah Putih flag. We won’t let the fans and our nation down,” the 20-year-old said.
Off the field, it appears that Riau Main Stadium is finally ready to host the tournament. Last month, the contractor who built the stadium for the 2012 National Games dismantled some of its seats, the electronic scoreboard and some of the lighting because the company had not been paid by the Riau government.
However, PSSI secretary general Tri Goestoro said that was taken care of.
“The seats and lighting have been installed. The AFC gave the nod and the venue is ready to host the tournament,” Tri said on Wednesday. “I know there are some parts of the stadium that have yet to be finished, but most of them are outside the stadium, like in parking lot.
“The AFC inspection team said there was no problem. There have not been any complaints from other teams.”
Singapore and East Timor open Group E at Riau Main Stadium on Thursday at 4 p.m., while at the same time Japan plays Macau at the Kaharuddin Nasution Stadium in Rumbai, Riau.