Tuesday, March 07, 2017
No Holds Barred In Pre Season Tournaments
Persib’s veteran midfielder Atep threw a towel in frustration to the ground. Kim Jeffrey Kurniawan wiped a tear from his eye while goalkeeper I Made Wirawan sat on the ground staring into empty space in disbelief. No, the Maung Bandung had not lost out on winning a major title, neither had they been relegated. Persib had managed to defeat Pusamania 2-1 on the night in the Piala Presiden semi final, enough to level the tie on aggregate after they had lost by a similar score in Samarinda in the first leg. With an extra 30 minutes failing to separate the two sides the game went to penalties with the tigerish Kurniawan missing the crucial spot kick for the home side. Fandi Ahmad converted his and Persib’s dream of reaching of emulating their success in this competition in 2015, when their fans famously turned Jakarta blue, ended in the chilly Soreang air.
Amid such scenes of desolation, despondancy and despair it is worth remembering one small fact. The Piala Presiden is only a pre season tournament. In other words it is a series of friendlies and as such, traditionally, is a time when coaches are still looking at players, toying with selections and tweaking formations. They are games of multiple substitutions played at a much slower pace and while fans are welcome to watch they are primarily for the coaching staff to look and learn.
That isn’t necessarily the case in Indonesia, especially as supporters across the country eagerly await the return of official competition after the easing of FIFA sanctions imposed in 2015. It seems Indonesian football doesn’t do low tempo. Fans demand that fast paced all action play we are used to and many clubs seem happy to accept that. Not all. You get the impression some clubs weren’t too upset at being knocked out of the Piala Presiden early on, preferring to do their pre season on their own terms far from the glare and intensity of high pressure games.
Other clubs though treated every game as their own personal final, the end of a season with everything at stake rather than a pre season gentle kick around. Who can forget that thriller in the Maguwoharjo Stadium, Sleman where home side heroes PSS found themselves 3-0 up against the more seasoned, more experienced Mitra Kukar. It was no fluke, PSS, the team from the second tier, played well, defending in numbers and breaking well, always a threat to the visitors. But Mitra Kukar always looked a threat and at the end the 3-3 result was probably fair. As a spectacle it was thrilling, vibrant experience with two fully committed teams who only wanted a win.
Indonesia Soccer Championship winners Persipura are the ultimate in professionalism on and off the pitch. With their habit of winning trophies and their experiences playing in Asian club competition morphing with their relatively stable squad the Black Pearls know how to manage game time, when to go full throttle and when to tease their opponents with possession football, waiting for that lapse in defence to unleash one of their devastating attacks.
Against Gresik United you got the impression they were holding something back. Yes, they had the possession and the chances but Gresik were dogged and determined and came away fully deserving their 2-1 win. For the team from East Java this was no kick around in the park; they wanted a win so badly and that came across in their players performances. No tackle was spared, no challenge bottled.
For the fans and the neutral it was another great game to watch as was the first semi final between Pusamania and Persib when the home side, after three games playing safety first, went full throttle against the 2014 Indonesia Super League champions, getting on them the back foot and fully deserved the early lead they took.
Supporters have responded to the excitement on the pitch by flocking to the stadium. Pusamania’s Segiri Stadium was 99% full for the Persib game while around 25,000 saw each of the semi final second legs last night in Bandung and Arema and another large crowd is expected for the final next Sunday between Pusamania and Arema in Cibinong.
Coaches may be left biting their fingernails in the dugout and fretting about players getting injured or suffering from knocks that could cause them to miss games. But for fans the Piala Presiden is proving to be a sumptuous taster for the season ahead.