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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

 

Time For Action Over Fan Violence

Indonesian football can breathe a sigh of relief. Following the disturbances that marred the Gresik United v PS TNI game where play was held up for 20 minutes and more than 50 home fans needed medical treatment, the Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi threatened to halt the Indonesian Soccer Championship were there to be a repeat of those violent scenes.

Well the scenes were repeated. Only worse as Persija fans went off on one towards the end of their game versus Sriwijaya last weekend causing the ref to halt the game on 81 minutes. There had earlier been two lengthy breaks as the match officials allowed smoke from flares to clear the field; some players needed to take on extra oxygen as they inhaled too much smoke. Two breaks...it was not as if there haven't been enough warnings about fans taking flares and smoke bombs inside stadiums. That the game was halted twice suggests some people in Jakarta aren't reading the same script.

It was later revealed a 63 year old itinerant drink seller was beaten up and died as the violence spilled outside. Yeap, you read that right...a 63 year old man. The gentleman came from Kuningan in West Java, deep in the heart of Bobotoh country, and had probably left his village to seek his fame and fortune, or more likely some extra rupiah, for his family. With the end of the fasting month next week possibly he was looking forward to returning home to see his family along with millions of other Indonesians. 

Well he has gone home ok, 10 days early and in a box. The family reunion that millions enjoy across the length and breadth of the 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia will be a sombre one in his hamlet and by then I guess he will have been forgotten about. Just one more victim of football and its inability to control itself.

Earlier in the season a Persija fan was killed in another violent incident that occurred outside the Bung Karno Stadium. With in hours there were hashtags, you name it coming out in memory of their fallen supporter as Persija fans and fans across the country protested against what they perceived as police aggression against football fans. On Friday night it seems some fans turned on the police with six injured, one reportedly seriously. And one dead water seller. Was this some sort of sick idea of revenge?

Does dancing on the back of a frail old man count as levelling old scores? Does chasing down men in uniform mob handed and pouncing as they fall to the ground count as a job well done?

Crowd control is a fine art and it has to be said the British old bill, thanks to decades of experience, have it down to a fine art. Witness the scenes at the Euros in Marseilles recently when organised Russian thugs and baton waving gendarme declared open season on Jordan from Tunbridge Wells and Gaz from Rutland. The Frenchies couldn't tell the difference between a few lads on the ale getting lairy and the real hardcore who were up for a row so they chose the easy option of lashing out at everyone with a Three Lions connection. The English OB would have known the difference between the wannabes and the real lads and would have acted accordingly, a quiet word in the old shell like or you're nicked, son.

Indonesian crowd control? If there is any it is someone searching bags for plastic water bottles, the South East Asian equivalent of a plastic chair. When it kicks off expect a deluge of placcy water bottles. They may get confiscated at the turnstiles but the only vendors inside the stadium will be quick to sell you another one. Searches are inadequate then. Now, there is some work that goes on into keeping an eye on known trouble makers in Jakarta but it is low key and I doubt if it includes CCTV or banning orders! And one would hope the police do have an idea about the different fan groups that follow Persija. Not every Persija fan is Jakmania who tend to be card carrying members of the official (!) supporters club but when something kicks off then everybody will be lumped together as Jakmania even if those involved are not fully paid up members. Wearing orange? Tick. Involved in violence? Tick. Conclusion? Jakmania. Many nazis are skinheads but not all skinheads are nazis. Many racists voted Brexit but not all Brexiters are racist.

The issue of fan violence in Indonesian football is a multi headed beast and usually bears little relation to the hooliganism I grew up in England in the 70s, 80s. As fans battled with police at Bung Karno last Friday the Sriwijaya fans in the stadium faced one big threat...from the tear gas being fired on the pitch. They were not a target. Fan on fan violence is rare, in part because supporters play such a big, and often misunderstood, role in policing themselves. For years, for example, Persija fans didn't travel to Persib and visa versa. That all changed a couple of years back after a much heralded peace between the rival sets of supporters saw thousands of Persija fans head south only to be stopped by the police and then turn the toll road into a war zone. 

Even the disturbances at the Gresik United v PS TNI game recently was fan on fan only in as much as the visiting f ans kicked the crap out of home fans as the latter tried to run away. There was little in the way of resistance as the military boys took liberties. More often than not, when it kicks off it is because fans feel frustrated with the decisions of the match officials. 

So what can be done to stop this ugliness that permeates Indonesian football. Against a backdrop of alleged match fixing, constant politiciking and general incompetence it is the fan and the fan culture that keeps Indonesian football alive and head and shoulders above the rest of the region. Thai football culture never developed beyond selfies while Singapore lost its culture, if it had one, years back. But Indonesian terrace culture rules and it is to Indonesia the likes of Malaysia look to for trends and ideas. This is something to be proud of. 

Amid the beauty of a full terrace in full voice there is always that undercurrent of violence bubbling under, quite appropriate in the Ring of Fire, just waiting for a spark to explode. And given the deep lines of suspicion many on the terraces feel towards the PSSI and their cohorts there is little that can be done to go about improving matters any time soon. Five years ago fans believed in the Liga Primer Indonesia because they were so desperate to see something good in their game. They were let down and even if there were to be a new PSSI there would still be reservations. Fans are used to being ignored except at election time or when some narcissistic TV producer wants a banner held up at a live game extolling the virtues of his employer. 

No. Change can't come from the top. Clubs show little appetite for crowd control and the security officials aren't really up to it. But somehow it needs the fans, the clubs and the security to sit down together and work something out so supporters can go to a game and not fear for their lives. And it really needs Persija tp take the lead on this. They are the club with the largest average home attendance and they also take the largest numbers away. Their fans also happen to be involved in more incidents than any other club.

What is the solution? I hate  games played behind closed doors and so do the players and officials no doubt. All ticket games and membership schemes? People queue at airports but not at football stadiums, they are non starters. But someone somewhere has to stop this shit. How many more people need to die at football because some supporters can't behave themselves? How can we stop the mentality that kicking the shit out of a poor old man is a good thing to do?

England did nothing about fan violence until Hillsborough when 96 fans died. How many supporters need to die at a football match in Indonesia before any meaningful action is taken? Football should say a quiet terima kasih to Imam for not halting the season. It now has a duty to make sure this violence ends but I fear not much will change.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

 

Bung Karno Erupts In Night Of Violence

With firecrackers and smoke bombs going off all over the place Bung Karno Stadium resembled more a war zone than a sports arena last night as Persija fans fought pitched battles with security forces leading to the game being halted with just minutes remaining. Videos posted on You Tube showed youths throwing plastic water bottles and rocks at retreating security personnel while others tore down advertising hoardings to be used as weapons for future battle.

Players and match officials rushed to the relative safety of the dressing rooms as the violence intensified authorities struggled to stop the disorder that seemed to erupt from different sides of the ground. Before TV stopped broadcasting they showed a distraught looking Bambang Pamungkas, a Persija legend, looking on in bemusement. What the fuck was going on and why?

The disturbances continued outside the stadium with reports of tear gas being fired, cars being damaged and set on fire. Persija fans were quick to blame the police, shadows of the Russian violence in Marseilles, saying they were provoked by the men in uniform but without a proper inquiry we will never know how things could spiral out of control so quickly.

photo credit
Twice in the second half the game was stopped after Persija fans let off flares, the smoke effecting some players who were forced to take on oxygen pitchside. Why were the flares even let inside the stadium given the zero tolerance towards such items being adopted by the Indonesia Soccer Championship? It would be naive to expect tight security at the turnstiles wouldn't it? Go to nearby Plasa Senayan mall and the middle class families get searched but it doesn't happen at the football where the numbers are obviously much larger.

The ISC policy towards flares has been clear from Match Day 1 with fines being announced weekly and following multiple incidents recently Madura United have been forced to move their home games to Sidoarjo as punishment. Persija too have been fined. Knowing the financial penalty their club would receive the fans still brought the flares and twice the game was halted. 

This was Persija's fourth home game of the season. There had been disturbances outside the stadium at the game against Persela where one supporter lost his life. There were reports of fighting with security personnel against PS TNI. And now this. We are not talking about the more old school English style hooliganism where two sets of lads go at it. This is locals against security and is more than just football. That it happens so often in Jakarta is never adequately explained beyond 'we was provoked guv' as all sides play the blame game and the club keep quiet.

The irony is Persija were only to play their first two home games in Jakarta. With Bung Karno Stadium to be closed for renovations ahead of the Asian Games Persija were to be forced to play their home games elsewhere. The authorities agreed to a couple of more games in Jakarta but after last night the need to find an alternate venue has grown more acute and the reported willingness of Pakansari Stadium to be used must be reconsidered given its location in West Java, Persib's heartland.

And just a few days ago club president Ferry Paulus was expressing surprise when Persib announced they would not allow Persija fans to attend their game in Bandung next month. I'm not Indonesian and to me it seemed an eminently good suggestion but Ferry was surprised. After the incidents last night it still seems a good idea and for those with short memories who can forget the violence that blocked the toll road between Jakarta and Bandung as Persija fans fought with security officials a couple of years ago
?

The game itself was actually not bad considering the febrile atmosphere with Sriwijaya's excellent young keeper Teja Paku Alam smartly saving a penalty from Bambang and Hilton Moreira scoring with an excellent free kick to give the visitors the lead before the carnage erupted. 

The ISC have a busy few days ahead deciding what punishment to give to Persija as well as deciding what to do with the final 10 or so minutes of the game. It will also be interesting to see how the Sports Minister reacts. Following the sweeping incidents that occurred when Persebaya fans went out seeking Malang registered cars ahead of Madura United v Arema and the serious disorder that broke out when PS TNI fans attacked Gresik United supporters the minister said any more violence and he would stop the league. 





Friday, June 24, 2016

 

Tjong Becomes Fourth ISC Coach To Pay Ultimate Price

Edward Tjong has stepped down as coach of PS TNI with the club saying he felt he had failed to give his best for the team this season. The military side have moved swiftly, replacing him with Suharto who had coached the side during the General Sudirman Cup.

While PS TNI are winless after seven games, only goal difference keeps off bottom place, there had been a sense Tjong's position was fairly safe with the understanding he had a pretty young, inexperienced squad to draw upon and of course a squad that included no foreign players.

It has been an interesting debut season for the military men who only joined the league after some kind sponsor had bought the license of Persiram. They started the campaign playing in Bandung but after just a couple of home games there switched to playing in Cibinong as they sought to find a home base.

While no one has been surprised by their poor start to the season they did earn some headlines when their supporters went on the rampage in the game away to Gresik United with play stopped for 20 minutes. The club received a hefty fine and were told their next two away games were to be played without any PS TNI fans in the stadiums...hardly a great punishment for a team that draws its support from local military camps!

Under Tjong they earned a reputation as a tough team to beat. Only Mitra Kukar (4-1) and Persipura (3-1) could make their class show against the hardworking but limited side while Persija had to wait until five minutes from time before they could secure the three points. Draws against Bhayangkara Surabaya United, Gresik United and PSM are all they have to show for the ISC so far with just four goals scored in their seven games.

Suharto has a couple of days to work with the squad ahead of their next game away to Semen Padang with their on fire import striker Sacremento and local lad Vendry Mofu among the goals. On paper there is little reason to expect anything will change any time soon beyond the name on the coach's office door but then this is Indonesia...

* The other coaches to find themselves out of work this season are Dejan Antonic (Persib), Luciano Leandro (PSM) and Stefan Hansson (Persela).

 

Successive Wins See Pusamania Go Third

PSM v Pusamania 0-2 (Gerald Pangkali, Pedro Javier) 7,953

A tale of two coaches? A bit early to tell but with both sides struggling to make much of an impact early on in the season one, PSM, decided to change coaches while the other kept with theirs. This away win for Pusamania saw the club rise to third place after eight rounds and sees them on a run of one loss in their last four games. 

It would have also been pleasing for captain Ponaryo Astaman and his teammates to have built on last week's 5-0 thumping of Gresik United by heading east to Makassar and picking up three points. Maybe the days of blaming match officials are a thing of the past and Pusamania have finally turned the corner?

PSM's new gaffer, Robert Alberts, may not be painting such a rosy future. This was his side's second consecutive home loss and they have just a single point from their last four games, a poor run of form that sees them sit 15th in the table. And with only Perseru and PS TNI having scored fewer goals this season Alberts will be looking to his striker Ferdinand Sinaga to start hitting the net soon. It has been a strangely quiet start to the season for the normally firey striker and Alberts will be looking to him to break his goal scoring drought which dates back to the first day of the season.

On the few times I have seen PSM this season despite the quality of players like Ardan Aras and Rasyid Bakri there have been few signs of quality in the performances on the pitch and there has already been talk the foreign players will be cut loose come the transfer window. 

For now though Pusamania will be patting themselves on the back at showing patience with their coach and they can bask in the glory of third place for a few hours at least.

PSM: Dimas Galih Pratama; Ardan Aras, Hendra Wijaya, Boman Aime (Jajang 76'), Achmad Sumardi, Rasyid Assahid Bakri, Rizky Pellu, Ridwan Tawainella (Syamsul 76'), M Rahmat, Ferdinand Sinaga, Muchlis Hadi Ning.
Subs: Davit Ariyanto; Erik Setiawan, Valentino Telaubun, Jajang Maulana, Syamsul Haeruddin, Maldini Pali, Andri.
Pusamania: Dian Agus Prasetyo (Nadeo 75'); Zulkifli Syukur, Gerald Pangkali, Jad Noureddine, Firly Apriansyah, Tarik Boschetti, Ponaryo Astaman, Hendra Ridwan, Terens Puhiri (Sandi 62'), Edilson Tavares (Lerby 72'), Pedro Javier.
Subs: Nadeo Argawinata; Aang Suparman, Wahyu Kristanto, Sandi Darma Sute, Sultan Samma, Fandhy Ahmad, Lerby Eliandry.



 

Match Day 7 In Numbers

Match Day 7

Persela v Perseru 2-0 (Zaenal Arifin, OG) 4,218
Pusamania v Gresik United 5-0 (Jed Noureddine, Jefri Kurniawan, Pedro Javier, Edilson Tavares, Lerby Eliandry) 2,137
Barito Putera v Semen Padang 1-1 (Luis Carlos Junior; Nur Iskandar) 2,537
Persib v Mitra Kukar 2-1 (Atep, Robertinho; Marlon da Silva) 19,996
Sriwijaya v PSM 1-0 (Alberto Goncalves) 11,200
Arema v Persija 1-0 (Cristian Gonzales) 23,764
PS TNI v Persipura 1-3 (Gunter Triaji; Riky Kayame 2, Boas Solossa) 5,653
Persiba v Bhayangkara Surabaya United 0-2 (Hargianto, Evan Dimas) 3,457
Madura United v Bali United 0-0 1,135

8  goals were scored by foreign players
12 goals were scored by Indonesian players
Biggest Crowd - 23,764 Arema v Persija
Lowest Crowd - 1,135 Madura United v Bali United played Delta Stadium, Sidoarjo
Top Scorer - 6 Luis Junior (Barito Putera)
Average Crowd - 8,233
Biggest winning margin season to date - Sriwijaya v Madura United 5-0, Pusamania v Gresik United 5-0
Biggest attendance season to date - Persija v Semen Padang 50,117
Lowest attendance season to date - 1,135 Madura United v Bali United

1 - Arema 7 5 1 1 11-3 16
2 - Persipura 7 4 2 1 11-8 14
3 - Sriwijaya 7 3 3 1 9-3 12
4 - Mitra Kukar 7 3 3 1 11-7 12
5 - Madura United 7 3 3 1 7-8 12

Persija - 43,416
Persib - 20,946
Arema - 15,914

Monday, June 20, 2016

 

Holding The Megaphone

I must admit I don't get the whole choreographed football atmosphere that we see in South East Asia but when it works, think of clubs like Arema, JDT, Persija, Persib etc, it does look and sound pretty impressive.

In the underworld of Indonesian football culture the fan leaders if you like can become celebrities of their own with one Arema supporter featuring in a film called The Conductors. They certainly become recognisable and are in a way the terrace faces and legends that we used to have in England.

Watching the PS TNI v Persipura game last night for some reason I was in with the away fans and as you might expect they had brought down a small but vociferous crowd and mingling in with the travelling support were various other waifs and strays including a few Persikabo fans and one lad wearing his Persib colours.

Normally these fans have a megaphone and last night was no exception. With Persipura well and truly on top the supporters took in turns to hold the megaphone and lead the crowd with their favourite tunes.

That is what it felt like, Fans living out their fantasy of leading the supporters with their movement and their chanting. Forget those football manager games where frustrated fans and wannabe coaches live out their dreams with imaginary money, Holding The Megaphone was the real deal. A fantasy show played out in the terraces. It didn't matter some of the guest megaphone holders were all but ignored by the bulk of the support, seemingly it was to be standing there leading the crowd as they have seen their peers do.

One guy was really getting into it. He had the actions and the movements as well as all the songs from the Indonesian Terrace Handbook. What he didn't have was an audience...the fans were watching the game but I am not sure he cared that much. He was living his dream with the megaphone and anyone he wasn't watching the game. 

I wondered why he had come to the game. Was it because he was a neutral? A groundhopper? Or was he a frustrated rabble rouser and by ingratiating himself with the travelling fans he could get to play with their megaphone. Who knows. Just another face on the terraces with a story we will never read.


 

Stay Away Fans Highlight FAS Incompetence

So I was at the Tampines Rovers v Balestier Khalsa game on Friday night in the SLeague and as far as I am aware the season hasn't finished and Albirex Niigata had not been crowned champions. So where were the fans? What has happened to all that early season hype, Pennantmania, that saw increased attendances across the league?

No doubt there are three arguments the stay aways would like to put forward starting with the Euros going on in France, So? Shouldn't the marketing geniuses at the FAS being doing something about getting bums on seats and doing their utmost to prioritise the local game, like actually do their job and not cling to airy fairy ideas about strategic plans. ASEAN Super Leagues or their dreams of working at FIFA?

It was a Balestier home game but they don't seem to have much of a fan base at the best of times, did I really see one of their number wearing a swastika t shirt? But Tampines fans surely could have, should have made the effort. After all they are the swashbucklers, the team that signed all the top players from LionsXII though given their financial status now they are bringing little tangible benefit to the club through the gate.

I sat with the Tampines fans and apart from one clown who kept making daft loud comments that saw him earn the mildest possible rebuke from a cautious steward, they made little in the way of noise. But it wasn't just that. In other countries people go to a game, meet their mates, have a crack, share a bit of banter. These Tampines fans didn't seem to know each other. They sat in little pockets, played with their phones, nibbled their potato chips and talked to each other and seemed to live in total isolation to the rest of the world. They weren't at a football match, they were at a family picnic, sitting amid other families, amid yet apart.

The fasting month may have had an impact on the attendance as may the rain but then games are going on in Indonesia for example with little impact at the turnstile.

No, these are just excuses from the apathetic. Simply put the SLeague and the few remaining clubs are doing next to nothing to reach out to fans. Tampines deserve some kudos for making an effort but it hasn't been sustained and rather than a regional powerhouse being developed the danger is they become the Leeds United, living the dream, spending money they have yet to earn.

Perhaps it is time to end the SLeague as it stands and start afresh with franchised clubs backed by owners with deep pockets? But that would mean the current turkeys voting for Christmas and given some people's international ambitions that is unlikely. The fact the SLeague is in such a poor state is down to these people and they would like to take their incompetence to the AFC and FIFA. Sadly so rotten is the core of the game and so well versed are they in business school speak they stand a chance.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

 

Bobotoh's Seven Commandments

So Persib fans can finally get to see their team at the new 38,000 capacity Bandung Luat Api Stadium for the first time but the game with unbeaten Mitra Kukar comes with conditions.

1 - Capacity is being limited to 20,000*
2 - Only East and South stands will be open
3 - West and North stands as well as VIP and VVIP will not be open for this game
4 - Cars must use the toll road
5 - Cannot use flat bed trucks
6 - Fans are asked to behave themselves and follow instructions from security personnel
7 - Fans must buy tickets and cannot take flares etc inside the stadium

Given Persib's less than flying start to the new season, just one win in six games, surely it is the Bobotoh who should be giving the club the conditions under which they will watch the game!

As this will be Persib's first game at the new stadium I wonder if the club will be selling commemorative merchandise to mark the occasion?

* prices
East Lower Rp 60,000
East Upper Rp 30,000
South Lower Rp 40,000
South Upper Rp 30,000

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

 

Doing The Samba Beat In Indonesia

Quite a remarkable weekend of action in Indonesia with 34 goals in the nine games that made up Match Day 6 of the Indonesia Soccer Championship. One club president took a swipe at match officials, one ref was taken to hospital after inhaling too much smoke from flares, one coach lost hins job and one team came from behind to win 5-4.

At the heart of the excitement were some of the Brazilians who now call Indonesia home and leading the way was Luiz Carlos Junior with a hat trick for Barito Putera as they led Persipura 3-1 at half time only to go down 5-4.

In his first time in South East Asia the 26 year old striker had started his career with the famous Botafogo but never made much of an impression. And despite two goals in his opening five games for his new side from the island of Kalimantan he wasn't pressing all the right buttons as far as the club were concerned.

'He has had several golden chances but failed to score,' said the club manager (a different type of manager compared to English managers). 'We must consider this. If necessary he can be replaced. After several games the forward line should be settled but he is falling short.'

The idea a player needs time to settle in isn't one that is considered by these type of people. Anyway Luiz Carlos Junior netted a hat trick and no doubt the Barito Putera manager will claim success in his 'plan' to go public and threaten his foreign striker.

Persib and their coach Dejan Antonic made the headlines after they were walloped 4-1 by Bhayangkara Surabaya United but the home support no doubt would have been gratified with the efforts of Thiago Furtuoso who netted a brace. In his second spell with the club, Thiago brings some much needed firepower to a BS United side that are relatively light weight up front.

If you want an idea of the wanderlust that affects some players check out the recent months for Gresik United striker Patrick da Silva. He first signed for DPMM in 2012 and since then has turned out for Krabi, Thanh Hoa, Persija and now Gresik United. Playing the highly fancied Sriwijaya the home side went behind in the first half to a goal from Hilton Moreira, another Brazilian, only for Patrick to net twice in the second half, hos first an overhead kick from close range, and earn an unlikely three points for his side.

With Rodrigo dos Dantos and Otavia Dutra also getting on the scoresheet over the weekend fully 10 of the 34 goals in the ISC came from Brazilians,

 

Match Day 6 In Numbers

Match Day 6 

Mitra Kukar v Pusamania 3-2 (Septian David Maulana, Alan Leandro, Rodrigo dos Santos; Jefri Kurniawan, Terens Puhiri) 

Persija v PS TNI 1-0 (Ade Jantra) 
Perseru v Semen Padang 2-0 (Arthur Bonai, Boas Atururi)  
Bhayangkara Surabaya United v Persib 4-1 (Thiago Furtuoso 2, Rudi Widodo, Otavio Autra; Syamsul Arif) 
Bali United v Persela 3-1 (Kiko Insa, Fadil Sausu, Martinus Novianto; Victor Pae) 
PSM v Arema 0-1 (Sutarno) 
Gresik United v Sriwijaya 2-1 (Patrick dos Santos 2; Hilton Moreira) 
Persipura v Barito Putera 5-4 (Yustinus Pae, Boas Solossa 2, Feranindo Pahabol 2; Rizky Pora, Luiz Junior 3) 
Madura United v Persiba 3-1 (Pablo Rodrigues 3; Shohei Matsunaga) 

16 goals were scored by foreign players 

18 goals were scored by Indonesian players 
Biggest Crowd - 
Lowest Crowd - 
Top Scorer - 5 Luis Junior (Barito Putera), Pablo Rodrigues (Madura United) 
Average Crowd - 
Biggest winning margin season to date - Sriwijaya v Madura United 5-0 
Biggest attendance season to date - Persija v Semen Padang 50,117 
Lowest attendance season to date - Persipura v Perseru 2,500 

1 - Arema 6 4 1 1 10-3 13 

2 - Mitra Kukar 6 3 3 0 10-5 12 
3 - Persija 6 3 2 1 5-3 11 
4 - Persipura 6 3 2 1 8-7 11 
5 - Madura United 6 3 2 1 7-8 11 

Persija - 45,188 

Arema - 23,557 
Persib - 21,263

 

Persipura Edge Nine Goal Thriller To Go Fourth

Persipura v Barito Putera 5-4 (Yustinus Pae, Boas Solossa 2, Ferinando Pahabol 2; Luis Junior 3, Rizky Pora)
Ok, what a game. Persipura went 1-0 up early on but by half time the visitors were 3-1 to the good after goals from Rizky and a couple from Junior and a shock was on the cards. Persipura had not started the season particularly well, drawing their first two home games and losing away to Semen Padang. However back to back wins away to Persela and at home to Perseru have injected some much needed confidence into the Black Pearls.
There have been questions about the three time ISL champions strike force going into this game and coach Jafri Satra had rung the changes by bringing in import striker Thiago Fernandes Oliveira but it was the local boys who got the team back in the game when Boas scored his first of the season shortly after half time to make it 2-3.
The iconic striker levelled the score on the hour mark but it says much about Barito Putera's mental strength, or Persipura's defensive frailties, that within moments of going 3-3 the away team were back in the lead with Luiz completing his hat trick. 
It was left to another local boy, Pahabol. to secure the victory for Persipura with goals on 68 and 88 minutes.
After the game Persipura coach Jafri Sastri says his team fell behind because of poor communication but at half time he asked his players to believe in themselves. 'Praise god it was a miracle we could win the game. Thanks to god we worked hard and ... could win the game for Persipuramania who had been waiting a long time for us to score goals.
Persipura
1 Yoo Jae Hoon; 21 Yustinus Pae, 2 Rony Beroperay, 31 Dominggus Fakdawer, 32 Muhammad Tahir, 45 Bio Paulin; 12 Nelson Alom, 17 Yohanes Ferinando Pahabol; 10 James Koko Lomell, 86 Boaz Solossa, 8 Thiago Fernandes Oliveira
Subs: 27 Dede Sulaiman, 28 Andri Ibo, 44 Yohanis Tjoe, 5 Izaac Wanggai, 18 Riky Kayame, 30 Boakay Eddy Foday, 33 Lukas Mandowen
Barito Putera
20 Aditya Harlan; 26 Rizky Pora, 14 Fathlul Rahman, 3 Muhamad Roby, 32 Hansamu Yama; 32 Lucky Wahyu, 8 Amirul Mukminin, 5 Ibrahim Conteh, 18 Adam Alis Setyano, 17 Paulo Sitanggang; 10 Luis Carlos De Azevedo Junior
Subs: 30 Imam Arief Fadilah, 31 Arie Sandy, 21 Agi Pratama, 11 Ichsan Pratama, 25 Jefry W.A. Haay
Madura United v Persiba 3-1 (Pablo Rodrigues 3; Shohei Matsunaga)

Monday, June 13, 2016

 

Patrick Da Silva's Brace Ends Sriwijaya's Unbeaten Run

Bali United v Persela 3-1 (Kiko Insa, Fadil Sausu, Martinus Novianto; Victor Pae)
Bali United
1 Rully Desrian; 8 Ricky Fajrin, 32 Ahn Byung Keon, 87 Kiko Insa, 59 Hasim Kipuw; 14 Fadil Sausu, 92 Syakir Sulaiman, 17 I Nyoman Sukarja, 11 Yabes Roni Malaifani, 9 Alsan Putra Masat Sanda; 99 Nemanja Vidakovic
Subs: 97 Mochammad Diky Indriyana, 6 Felsianus Junius, 27 Agus Nova, 88 I Nyoman Adi Parwa, 10 Loudry Setiawan, 18 I Made Wirahadi, 95 Martinus Novianto
Persela
1 Choirul Huda; 36 Edy Gunawan, 3 Samsul Arifin, 87 Kristian Adelmund, 5 Taufiq Kasrun, 26 Djayusman Triasdi, 2 Zainal Arifin; 44 Tamsil Sijaya, 8 Jose Pedrosa Galan; 99 Herman Dzumafo Epandi
Subs: 20 Andi Setiawan, 12 M. Zainal Haq, 30 Eky Taufik Febriyanto, 21 Jusmadi, 32 Victor Pae, 9 Zulvin Zamrun, 91 A. Nur Hardianto
Bhayangkara Surabaya United v Persib 4-1 (Thiago Furtuoso, Rudi Widodo, Otavio Autra; Syamsul Arif)
It all went wrong for Persib in a game when they would have fancied themselves to come out winners. Conceding four goals against an average BS United certainly wasn't what the doctor ordered and after being under pressure all season coach Dejan Antonic quit after the game. 
Persib were without a number of big name players like Vladimir Vujovic and recent signing Sergio van Dijk and Antonic dropped Kim Jeffrey Kurniawan after he had become a target for fans ire but they still boast a deep squad with the likes of Zulham Zamrun making an appearance after injury.
The statistics lie. Persib dominated the possession, had the most shots. But they lost 4-1! And to compound a poor day at the office they missed two penalties. The first, by Spanish striker Juan Belencoso hit the cross bar. The hapless striker, without a goal in six games, was instantly withdrawn and almost immediately his replacement Samsul was hitting the woodwork from 12 yards,
Antonic has gone. Belencoso may not have much longer. ISL title winning coach Djanur, thought to be on his way to DC United for a coaching stint, is rumoured to be the next man in the hot seat. These are uncertain times for Persib and unhappy times for the Bobotoh. This was their first defeat of the season but those four draws are proving costly as they sit 13th in the ISC, six points off top spot but looking nervously over their shoulders at the sides beneath them.
They should have enough quality to mount a revival but whoever steps in to the vacant seat left by Antonic will know he won't have long to turn things around. Djanur may have a little longer...
Bhayangkara Surabaya United
1 Wahyu Tri Nugroho; 21 M. Fatchu Rochman, 27 Indra Kahfi Ardhiyasa, 5 Otavio Dutra, 2 I Putu Gede Juni Antara; 81 Muhammad Hargianto, 86 Khairallah Abdelkbir, 6 Evan Dimas, 20 Ilham Udin Armaiyn, 22 Fandi Eko Utomo; 10 Rudi Widodo
Subs: 30 Thomas Rian Bayu, 3 Dany Saputra, 4 Suroso, 34 M. Sahrul Kurniawan, 18 Paulo Helber Rosa, 31 Bijahil Chalwa, 99 Thiago Furtuoso Dos Santos
Persib 
78 I Made Wirawan; 6 Tony Sucipto, 2 Purwaka Yudi, 16 Hermawan, 31 Rudolof Yanto Basna; 24 Hariono, 17 Rachmad Hidayat, 10 Robertino Pugliara, 82 Tantan, 7 Atep; 99 Juan Carlos Belencoso
Cadangan: 1 M. Natshir Fadhil, 13 Muhammad Agung Pribadi, 8 Taufiq, 23 Kim Jeffrey Kurniawan, 91 David Laly, 54 Zulham Zamrun, 9 Samsul Arif
Perseru v Semen Padang 2-0 (Arthur Bonai, Boas Atururi)
Semen Padang's longest away day of the season, certainly the most complex and they return home empty handed as many teams will do from Serui. With joint top scorers at the start of the weekend Vendry Mofu and Marcel Sacremento in their ranks the team from West Sumatra would have hoped to have got on the score sheet at the very least but it was not to be. 
The problem for Semen Padang is for all their superiority in their own manor, three wins out of three, they are proving to be pants on the road, this game being their third straight loss as they build up the airmiles and coach Nil Maizar will be hoping he can address that uncomfortable stat over the coming weeks if his team is to continue challenging at the top of the table.
As for Perseru, they were without top scorer, indeed only scorer, Amadou Gakou but they seemed to manage ok, two second half goals seeing off the weary visitors. More good news for Perseru fans; they have gone 270 minutes without conceding a goal at home!
Perseru 
20 Sukasto Efendi; 5 Henry Njobi Elad, 18 Bilibig Dian Mahrus, 16 Sugiono, 25 Yesaya Desnam; 26 Septinus Alua, 12 Boas Atururi, 22 Arthur Bonai, 11 Yoksan Ama; 17 Irfan Yunus Mofu, 7 Paulus Hisage
Subs: 89 M. Choirun Nasirin, 38 Tonny Roy Ayomi, 92 Jhon Alex Wayoi, 29 Yance Youwey, 13 Franklin Rumbiak, 6 Dembele Siaka, 19 Fred Ferdinando Mote
Semen Padang
22 Jandia Eka Putra; 2 Novan Setya Sasongko, 16 Agung Prasetyo, 89 Cassio, 11 Hengki Ardiles; 20 Riko Simanjuntak, 10 Vendry Mofu, 77 Diego Messias, 88 Irsyad Maulana; 17 Muhammad Nur Iskandar; 8 Marcel Silva Sacramento
Subs: 31 Rendy Oscario, 4 Handi Ramdhan, 13 Fandry Imbiri, 7 Rudi, 44 Mekan Nasyrov, 32 Defri Riski, 26 Christovel Manuel Sibi
PSM v Arema 0-1 (Sunarto)
If Arema were grateful to Robert Alberts for helping them win the Indonesia Super League back in 2009/2010 they had a funny way of showing it. The Ditch coach, back in Makassar for a second spell, saw a much improved performance by his side but they still fell to an extremely confident Arema side who remain top of the standings after six rounds.
.PSM: David Ariyanto; Ardan Aras, Erik Setiawan, Hendra Wijaya, Boman Aime, Basri Lohy, Rizky Pellu, Rasyid Bakri (Samsul 61'), Alex da Silva, Ferdinand Sinaga (Rahmat 73'), Lamine Diarrassouba (Muchlis 88').
Subs: Dimas Galih Pratama; Valentino Telaubun, Achmad Sumardi, Syamsul Chaeruddin, M Rahmat, Maldini Pali, Muchlis Hadi Ning.
Arema: Kurnia Meiga; Ahmad Alfarizi, Hamka Hamzah, Ryuji Utomo, Beny Wahyudi, Ferry Aman Saragih (Juan Revi 75'), Raphael Maitimo, Srdjan Lopicic, Esteban Vizcarra, Ahmad Nufiandani (Sunarto 85'), Gustavo Giron (Gonzales 72').
Subs: I Made Wardhana; Junda Irawan, Juan Revi, Arif Suyono, Sunarto, Cristian Gonzales, Febri Setiadi Hamzah.
Gresik United v Sriwijaya 2-1 (Patrick da Silva 2; Hilton Moreira)
Are Sriwijaya the great entertainers of the ISC? It's not a question I wiill be putting to coach Widodo Cahyo Putro or his team after this loss but it is worth asking. Though this was their first loss of the season, and came after they had taken the lead in the first half, WCP will not be happy at the way Gresik asked questions of his defence and goalkeeper at will. 
I have been fulsome in my praise of Teja Paku Alam this season but Gresik must have felt he was a weak link as they pumped balls high into the box and in the well traveled do Santos they have a striker with the ability to make a nuisance of himself in the danger area and ultimately, put the ball away.
Perhaps the international break had interrupted Sriwijaya's momentum but while they showed glimpses of what they could do they were well pressed by the home side who pressed and harried all game and several players weren't at their best. With dos Santos and Oh Inkyun so impressive Gresik put in the kind of shift that left the large crowd wondering where the team had been the last few games. Following their 1-0 win at neighbouring Persela the team in yellow had drawn two and lost two games seeing them slide down the table. 
Rather like their Sumatran rivals Semen Padang, Sriwijaya are pretty bloody impressive at home but can't buy a win on their travels. And their next away game is against Persija who boast a 100% record of their home on their own manor.
Gresik United: Sandy Firmansyah; Daniel Junaedi (Kamri 79'), Riyandi Ramadhana, Romy Agustiawan, FX Yanuar (Rifqi 72'), Faris Ardiansyah, Oh Inkyun, Reza Mustofa (Eduardo 31'), Agus Indra Kurniawan, Ghozali Siregar, Patrick Da Silva.
Subs: Satria Tama; Muhammad Rifqi, Stevanus Bungaran, Yusuf Effendi, Muhamad Kamri, Hendri Satriadi, Eduardo Maceil.
Sriwijaya FC: Teja Paku Alam; Zalnando, Mauricio Leal, Achmad Jufriyanto, Fachruddin Wahyudi, Supardi, Ichsan Kurniawan, Firman Utina (Yohanis 62'), Muhammad Ridwan (Mushafry 77'), Alberto Goncalves, Hilton Moreira (Airlangga 87').
Subs: Yogi Triana; AA Ngurah Wahyu, Wildansyah, Yoo Hyun Koo, Yohanis Nabar, Talaohu Abdul Mushafry, Airlangga Sucipto.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

 

Dejan Antonic Steps Down As Persib Boss

A year ago and everyone wanted Dejan Antonic to coach Indonesia. After decent spells with the likes of Arema (the LPI version), Pro Duta and Pelita Bandung Raya Antonic was appointed to the hottest of hot seats in Indonesian football but almost immediately the knives were out.

He was accused of favouring certain players and after the team left it late to earn a point in the ISC opener against Sriwijaya, Tantan equalising in injury time, there were calls for his dismissal with some fans trying to place an advert in a local paper criticising the team.

Results didn't improve and matters came to a head in their last home game against Madura United when Persib could only draw 0-0. The team were unbeaten after five games but fans were unhappy with the style of play and the the players left the field with boos echoing around Si Jalak Harapat Stadium. 

Leaving the stadium Antonic got into a discussion with some Persib fans which was filmed for the world to see.

This evening they were beaten 4-1 by Bhayangkara Surabaya United, a team with just one win all season. And despite the positive stats, ball possession, shots on goal, passes, tackles, the history books will show Persib were beaten by a team who have failed to impress anyone this season.

Maung Bandung missed two penalties along the way with Juan Belencoso, without a goal in the ISC following his high profile move from Kitchee in Hong Kong hitting the crossbar and being immediately replaced by Antonic, throwing Syamsul Arif on in his stead. The Indonesian international missed a penalty moments later but did at least get on the score sheet with a consolation.

Going into the game Persib were without Vladimir Vujovic and Sergio van Dijk but surely they had enough in reserve to overcome BS United? A win could have seen them climb the ladder to fourth, within two points of leaders Mitra Kukar and despite the fan criticism they were unbeaten, albeit with one win in five games.

In the wake of the humiliation in Sidoarjo, Antonic stepped down as Persib coach saying 'this defeat is hard for me and the players. Surabaya United have not been good so far and we have a better squad compared to them. Perhaps the time is right for me to take a rest from this team. Persib need a new person, a person who can give the supporters the success they demand. Probably the players as well because this decision is for the good of the players and the club'.

The speculation regarding his successor will be intense over the next few days with Jacksen F Tiago a possible candidate following his departure from Penang. That can wait. For now Persib fans are left licking their words after the thrashing in Sidoarjo and digesting Antonic's decision to quit. 

Seriously, who needs the Euros...Indonesian football has everything you need!

 

Mitra Kukar Take The Points After Controversial Mahakam Derby

Mitra Kukar v Pusamania 3-2 (Septian David Maulana, Alan Leandro, Rodrigo do Santos; Jefri Kurniawan, Terens Puhiri)

Pusamania coach and officials have reacted angrily in the wake of their 3-2 loss against Mitra Kukar in the Mahakam Derby.

When coach Dragan Djukanovic said Real Madrid would lose to Mitra Kukar he was not saying the current Indonesia Soccer Championship leaders were among the best teams in the world.

'I have just been in Indonesia for two months,' he said after the game, 'and it is difficult for me to motivate the players if there are 14 players on the field against us. This is not normal and it is bad for Indonesian football. Even a team with the class of Real Madrid would lose if they played at Mitra Kukar.'

After the game club president Nabil Husein ran on the pitch to attack the match officials but was stopped by his players. After the game he tweeted 'we played well but two of their goals were offside...no live broadcast so we have no evidence.'

Djukanovic is of course saying nothing we don't already know. Match officials do favour certain teams at certain times in certain games for whatever reason but unless players or coaches or managers speak out about what happens in the tunnel or away from the stadium it won't end. Change will not come from an irate foreign coach who has been here a couple of months. The change can only come from within the game and let's be honest that isn't going to happen anytime soon.

As for the game, Mitra Kukar's win means they go top of the ISC A ahead of Saturday's fixtures with Timor Leste international Alan Leandro, pictured left, scoring his fourth of the season.

Mitra Kukar12 Shahar Ginanjar; 24 Michael Orah, 16 Saepuloh Maulana, 4 Arthur Cunha, 6 Zulchrizal Abdul Gamal; 13 Bayu Pradana, 10 Rodrigo Ost Dos Santos, 29 Septian David Maulana, 23 Hendra Bayauw; 9 Marlon Da Silva, 88 Alan Leandro Da Silva Pinheiro
Subs: 47 Gerri Mandagi, 33 Syahrizal, 27 Zikri Akbar, 66 Asri Akbar, 21 Anindito Wahyu Erminarno, 11 Dinan Yahdian Javier, 99 Yogi Rahadian
Pusamania Borneo 
33 Dian Agus Prasetyo; 27 Gerald Rudolf Pangkali, 16 Aang Suparman, 4 Jad Noureddine, 24 Diego Michiels; 11 Ponaryo Astaman, 6 Tarik Boschetti, 28 Terens Puhiri, 77 Jefri Kurniawan; 10 Edilson Tavares, 12 Lerby Eliandry Pong Baru
Subs: 97 Nadeo Argawinata, 3 Zulkifli Syukur, 46 Firly Apriansyah, 21 Sandi Darma Sute, 5 Hendra Ridwan, 22 Sultan Samma, 9 Pedro Javier Velazquez Insfran 

Persija v PS TNI 1-0 (Ade Jantra)

Bambang Pamungkas started his first game of the season and the veteran striker showed he still has the old skills as he provided a potent threat to the PS TNI defence. With his old mate Ismed Sofyan swinging the ball in from the right Bepe showed he has lost none of his ability to hang in the air and it was his knock down that saw Ade Jantra score the only goal of the game late in the second half.

It would have been interesting to see how Jantra was treated at work today. His day job is with the Indonesian armed forces and of course PS TNI are their football club. It has been quite a start to the season for the 26 year old who has now netted twice after spending years playing anonymously with Persita.

Persija 
26 Andritany Ardhiyasa; 4 Andik Rendika Rama, 33 Willian Pacheco, 6 Maman Abdul Rahman, 14 Ismed Sofyan; 21 Amarzukih, 22 Hong Soon Hak/7 Ramdani Lestaluhu (58), 19 Ade Jantra, 32 Novri Setiawan/11 Rachmat Afandi (68), 17 Ambrizal Umanailo/15 Syahroni (86); 20 Bambang Pamungkas
Subs: 31 Reky Rahayu, 13 Gunawan Dwi Cahyo, 16 Syahroni, 7 Ramdani Lestaluhu, 9 Rudi Setiawan, 8 Sutanto Tan, 11 Rachmat Afandi
PS TNI18 Dhika Bayangkara; 5 Syaiful Ramadhan/17 Abduh Lestaluhu (24), 26 Wanda Syahputra, 55 Manahati Lestusen, 3 Wiganda Pradika; 24 Legimin Raharjo, 94 Iman Faturohman, 99 Pandi Ahmad Lestaluhu, 23 Wawan Febrianto; 22 TAmbun Naibaho/12 Erwin Ramdani (86), 19 Aldino Herdianto/21 Irfandi Zein Al Zubeidy (62)
Subs: 95 Ravi Murdianto, 17 Muhammad Abduh Lestaluhu, 69 Hardiantono, 2 Ponda Dwi Saputra, 16 Tri Hardiyansyah, 21 Irfandi Zein Al Zubeidy, 12 Erwin Ramdani



Friday, June 10, 2016

 

Jakarta Football Chat - Match Day 6 Preview


 

Third Time Lucky For Riedl?

Alfred Riedl has been appointed coach of the Indonesian national team for the third time. The announcement came today after days of deliberations and delays. 

There had been four local coaches in the frame for the job but Indra Sjafri and Rudy Keltjes withdrew early on from the race leaving Semen Padang's Nil Maizar and T Team's Rahmad Darmawan seemingly with the field to themselves. Despite setting a number of deadlines to make their announcement all we got from PSSI were delays and postponements with no clear explanations.

So why plump for Riedl? The clues are out there, they just need piecing together. When Indra Sjafri pulled out he said he wanted to concentrate on his club but when pressed he went on to say 'I feel the situation is not normal, especially within PSSI'.

PSSI has only just been readmitted to the football family after a near 12 month suspension and it faces months of uncertainty locally with the possibility of new elections to decide the top brass. If new people do take over what is to say they will not want their own people in charge of football affairs?

Against this uncertainty you can understand other candidates uncertainty about taking the job.

Which makes the appointment of Riedl seem even more confusing. After all despite taking Indonesia to the final of ASEAN Football Federation Championship 2010 when they lost to Malaysia he was out of a job when new people took over at the PSSI saying they couldn't find his contract! The 66 year old Austrian, who once coached Al Salmiya in Kuwait, would surely have sought guarantees before taking the position?

Unfortunately the appointment of Riedl and the fact the two other leading candidates had previously held the post for short periods says much about where Indonesian football stands. There is no attempt at moving forward as political bickering intensifies ahead of possible PSSI elections. There is either no one with the vision to think out of the box or other highly regarded coaches just aren't interested in the post.

No doubt Riedl is a familiar face and he will know most of the players. And he has a proven record in South East Asian football over the years having guided Vietnam to runners up in 1998 and Indonesia in 2010 but it does smack of the last man standing getting the job after the music stopped. 

Thursday, June 09, 2016

 

AFC Champions League 2016 Quarter Final Draw

Competing teams are:

Al Ain (UAE), Al Nasr (UAE), El Jaish (Qatar), FC Seoul (Korea Republic), Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (Korea Republic), Lokomotiv (Uzbekistan), Shandong Luneng (China) and Shanghai SIPG (China)








23/08 Al Ain v Lokomotiv
23/08 Shanghai SIPG v Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

24/08 El Jaish v Al Nasr
24/08 FC Seoul v Shandong Luneng

13/09 Lokomotiv v Al Ain
13/09 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

14/09 Al Nasr v El Jasih
14/09 Shandong v Luneng



 

AFC Cup Quarter Final Draw 2016

13/09 South China (Hong Kong) v Johor Darul Ta'zim (Malaysia)
13/09 Air Force Club (Iraq) v Al Muharraq (Bahrain)

14/09 Al Ahed (Lebanon) v Al Jaish (Syria)
14/09 Bengaluru v Tampines Rovers (Singapore)

20/09 JDT v South China
20/09 Al Muharraq v Air Force Club

21/09 Al Jaish v Al Ahed
21/09 Tampines Rovers v Bengaluru

Tough ask for Tampines against Bengaluru but the Indian side will be without coach Ashley Westwood who stepped down recently.

Champions JDT face a trip to Hong Kong to take on South China in the first leg which should give them a slight advantage.

I saw JDT, Bengaluru and Al Jaish last year play in AFC competitions. Al Jaish put up a good fight against Qadsia in the AFC Cup in Kuwait before ultimately going down 3-0. And of course JDT met Bengaluru in an ACL qualifier back at the start of the year.

Will Tampines Rovers look to repeat the Selangor where they switched the tie to the National Stadium. A tad over 11,000 watched that game but then it was a local derby...will Bengalurur have a similar appeal?


 

Gresik United Punished After PS TNI Pitch Invastion

The organisers of the Indonesia Soccer Championship have finally given their decision after the disgraceful violence that marred the recent game between Gresik United and PS TNI. 

The disturbances reportedly began after Gresik United fans tried to steal a PS TNI banner. Fans of the military backed team responded by attacking home fans indiscriminately with 55 supporters needing hospital treatment.

The ISC sent a team to investigate the scene of the crime, no doubt looking for vital evidence and clues that could help them come to a conclusion as to what happened and why. And no doubt they carefully sifted that evidence and checked every stone and every plastic water bottle to see if they had been used violently.

Gresik United have been fined Rp 10 million as have supporters club Ultras. Dunno how that will work. It is a good idea to punich the fans rather than the club because after all it was the fans who started it by trying to steal the banner in the first place. But were those troublemakers bona fide members of the Ultras?

It does set an interesting precedent as it makes supporters responsible for their behaviour. With ISC dishing out fines left right and centre these days to clubs just because fans are letting off flares within the stadium perhaps in future they should be punishing the supporters. Or perhaps they should focus more on other things like on field brawls and dodgy ref decisions which really bring the game into disrepute.

PS TNI were fined Rp 50 million and their fans have been banned from traveling to the next two away games against Persija and Semen Padang. This won't be a great hardship as the club don't really have any fans. They just draw upon local military personnel who get time out of barracks to watch their team.


 

From West To East

Further to my piece about PSM's local derby away to Perseru, this weekend sees Semen Padang head to that far off destination...without doubt the longest road trip by any side this season. Physio Matias Ibo took to social media to highlight the journey.

But while PSM took a boat from Baik to Perseru Semen Padang which took several hours, much like Persija went for the easy option and flew for the less than 20 minute hop!

As Matias says...four flights, three transits, two buses. Gruelling at the best of times but remember this is the fasting month.



Tuesday, June 07, 2016

 

Yemen's Unlikely Journey Continues

There is rarely anything stable about football in Asia and that uncertainty perhaps is one of the reasons that makes it so vibrant and interesting. Indonesia get thrown out of FIFA and their clubs are forced to pull out of the AFC Cup. Kuwait get kicked out and their clubs, Qadsia and Kuwait SC, are also told to leave the competition despite having dominated it the last few years.

But even the tale of Yemen takes some beating in an area where WTF moments are so common people hardly notice them anymore.

In a region blessed with oil and gas countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been pumping money into football as a form of soft power, a way of raising their profiles on the international stage. Qatar hosted the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, sponsor Barcelona and will host the 2022 World Cup. The emirates of the UAE are busy doing their thing with national airlines allying themselves with top football clubs while the country itself will host the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

Yemen has neither oil nor gas. What it does have are warring parties vying for control of the nation while Arab 'allies' are flying sorties overhead in support of a regime that is battling proxies of Iran. The schism of Islam, Sunni against Shia, being fought in the poorest of Arab nations.

Against that backdrop you would perhaps excuse Yemen from competing in any kind of football at all. That they are on the verge of reaching the Third Round of Qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup is little short of remarkable. And remarkable is a pretty good word to describe their journey so far.

Being among the 12 lowest ranked nations in Asia Yemen were forced to play in a home and away First Round tie and were drawn against Pakistan. Given the violence in their own country Yemen were forced to play the first leg in Qatar, ironically part of the coalition raining weapons down on their homeland, and with goals from Al Matari, Bogshan and Al Sasi they made short work of the visitors winning 3-1.

After the game Pakistan recognised they had been up against a good team and posited the second leg in Lahore should offer no obtacle to them. 'For Yemen even Pakistan will be like a neutral venue,' said former national team captain Ali Nawaz Baloch. 'They weren't playing at home  because of the unrest in their country. They were playing away for them playing in Pakistan or Doha is the same thing.'

Except the game was not played in Lahore. Or anywhere else in Pakistan for that matter. Suicide bombings in the city caused Yemen to cancel their training session in the city and while they did manage a work out the day after the bombings the violence had left them feeling nerby. The national team doctor Mohammed al Khumesi said 'We're worried about the uncertainty. They players are upset and afraid and I don't think they are mentally prepared to play the game...one training session isn't enough.'

As it happened FIFA called the match off the day after the bombings, deciding the tie would go ahead in Bahrain. The game ended 0-0 and Yemen had earned their ticket to the Second Round Group Stage where the top teams could also make progress in the World Cup.

Yemen were drawn with Uzbekistan, North Korea, Philippines and Bahrain and even before they had played their first game the national team were again making headlines. With no foreign teams able to visit the country since 2010 Yemen again were forced to play their games on neutral soil and again it was Qatar who came to the rescue. But with Yemeni airspace closed thanks to the coalition bombing sorties the players had to find alternate means to covering the relatively short distance. 

Their first home game was against North Korea and with the roads out of the country dangerous the squad boarded a boat heading to Djibouti, a 13 hour sail in dangerous waters with pictures of the players sitting in cramped conditions going viral after they were posted on the Facebook page of sports minister Rafat Ali Al Akhali. In 2010 Yemen had hosted the Gulf Cup of Nations, now they were being forced to travel by rickety boat just to catch a flight to Doha. 

The coach at the time, Czech Mirosalv Soukup recognised the difficulties his team faced. 'Everything is destroyed in the war. The grounds, the domestic league...everything. At my first meeting with them I have told them to focus on the positives. There are few but what else could I tell them? Football's not bigger than life and death is it? But look at these players. They know that if they win people in Yemen will be happy. At least some good news in these distressing times.'

Yemen lost the game 1-0 but having fielded an illegible player, Mudir Al Radaei, FIFA, showing a distinct lack of sympathy to the hard pressed Yemenis, intervened and awarded the game 3-0 to North Korea. 

Five days later and Yemen were hosting Philippines in the same city. The visitors won 2-0 to go top after their opening two games and Yemen were ensconced in bottom place. A trip to Tashkent saw them go down 1-0 against Uzbekistan and while bahrain had shown some neighbourly love by hosting Yemen's game against Pakistan they showed FIFA type sympathy on the pitch, thrashing them 4-0.

Four games in and Yemen's dreams of heading to Russia were gone. Four losses without a goal scored it had been a  tough start to their campaign and things weren't going to improve any time soon. The prospect of Yemen meeting North Korea must have been the source of some gallows humour for some as this extract from a Guardian piece suggests 'North Korea played Yemen in Pyongyang, the sealed military dictatorship aces seeing off the civil war torn stars 1-0 thanks to a penalty...as far as I can tell both countries were basically on the edge of war.' Certainly football must throw up some interesting dinner table conversation and you can't help wondering how the players from Yemen with their families under aerial threat 24/7 felt about being compared to North Korea with its grandiose buildings and theatrical traffic cops waving on non existent vehicles.

Finally some joy for Yemen came from their trip to the Philippines, sub Ahmed Al Sarori scoring the only goal late on. It was to be Yemen's only highlight as defeats in their final games against Uzbekistan and Bahrain cemented their place at the bottom of the group with just those three points from the Thriller in Manila and two goals to show for their efforts. Still, at least they had the consolation of trying for the AFC Asian Cup and an away win in Maldives has set them up nicely thank you for the second leg in Doha. Now the Maldives may have their own problems, coach Rikki Herbert recently stepped down but Yemen, perhaps looking at the pristine beaches, won't have toomuch sympathy. A point in the second leg would be enough to secure their spot in the Third Round and given the trials and tribulations they have faced so far that would be some achievement.

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