Tuesday, March 07, 2017
Pusamania's Surprise Road To Pakansari
Pusamania's journey to the final of the President Cup where they meet Arema on Sunday has surprised many. Yet for seasoned watchers of the local football scene it is just the latest step on a jounrey that began a mere three years ago.
The year 2014 was a year of plenty for football fans in the unfashionable city of Samarinda, capital of East Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo. While the city does have an airport there is very little usage and any trip there means negotiating the three hour drive along a bumpy, windy road from Balikpapan to the south. New owners had taken local side Persisam Putra and rebranded them Pusam. Disgruntled fans vowed not to follow the team anymore and when one of their own decided to build his own club they flocked to the cause.
The easiest way to start a football club is to buy the licence of an existing one and this is what happened when the rights of Perseba Super Bangkalan, based in Madura, were bought up, rebranded and relocated to Samarinda to be known as Pusamania Borneo, a nod to the fans who had made the move possible.
That season Pusam played their home games in the cavernous Palaran Stadium in front of small crowds of the faithful while Pusamania played at the more traditional Segiri Stadium, centrally located. Even though Pusam were playing in the top flight and Pusamania in the second tier you don't need a degree in advanced rocket science to know which team attracted more fans. In Indonesia, lose the fans and the club will lose. We have seen this most recently with the drama over Persebaya/Persikubar/Surabaya United/Bonek.
Come the end of the season Pusamania were champions of Divisi Utama and Pusam were relocated to another island and renamed Bali United Pusam, eventually of course dropping the Pusam from their name. Till now it seems the deal has benefitted both clubs with both adopting a more professional approach to football and its management.
Pusamania lay down a marker at the start of 2017 when they announced they would use two teams in their pre season. The first team would take a low key approach while a second team, built around the core that would become their Under 23 team would gain greater exposure by competing in the President Cup; a pre season tournemen featuring the 18 Liga 1 teams plus top two from the 2016 Liga 2.
With Dragan Dukanovic given time and space to prepare for the new season away from the headlines and 24/7 media glare the club appointed Ricky Nelson to take charge of the 'second team'. Having worked with Villa 2000 and most recently academy Serpong City working with young players was in Nelson's coaching DNA and he jumped at the opportunity to step up a level or two.
Pusamania were drawn alongside Bali United, Sriwijaya and Barito Putera with the hosts Bali and Sriwijaya seen as favourites to go through. It didn't happen that way. Pusamania drew their first game 0-0 with Barito Putera, a team seeking to impress their new coach, Jacksen F Tiago. A similar score followed when they met Bali United and with the group wide open a late goal from Fandi Ahmad secured their three points against Sriwijaya and ensured an unlikely top spot for the team who had played 270 minutes and conceded no goals.
With the quarter finals moving to Solo, Pusamania were drawn against Madura United. The game ended with a familiar 0-0 before going to penalties. Pusamania converted theirs to triumph and reach the semi finals. You didn't need to hire a stats firm to work out Pusamania's tactics. One goal scored, zero conceded in 360 minutes told you everything. A young team maybe but also a very well drilled one. But Persib were next up in the two legged semi final. They, surely, would be a different kettle of finish.
Anyone expecting more of the same from Pusmania in front of a near capacity Segiri Stadium in were for a rude awakening. The home team went for it from the first whistle and fully deseerved the lead when Reinaldo scored on 14 minutes. In a first half of intensity and passion under the Segiri lights Pusamania tore Persib apart time and time again, getting in the faces of the visitors midfield, not allowing them time on the ball. In one frantic episode Pusamania hist the woodwork twice and had two efforts blocked in a matter of seconds as they sought a second goal that would give them some kind of cushion to take to the intimidating atmosphere of Si Jalak Harupat.
Instead it was Persib who scored the next goal, the oh so reliable defender Vladimir Vujovic netting from close range after a corner moments before the half time whistle. Persib were back in the game but while the game lacked the same intensity in the second half Patrich Wanggai scored a second to give Pusamania a narrow lead to take to West Java.
In front of another large crowd Shohei Matsunaga gave Persib the lead from close range before defender Dikir Kohn Glay levelled early in the second half. Atep's goal made for a nervy last 17 minutes but Pusamania held on for extra time and ultimately penalties. Kim Jeffry Kurniawan missed for Persib, Fandi scored when he had to and that was it. Pusamania had made it to the final and the party started in Samarinda. It was a nice way to celebrate their third anniversary and club owner Nabil Husein joined in the celebratory mood by offering free match tickets to fans travelling from Samarinda to the final on Sunday against Arema.
At the end of the day it is only pre season but Ricky Nelson knows his team are only 90 minutes from lifting a prestigious trophy against a serious player in Indonesia. Having overcome the likes of Sriwijaya and Persib who is to say his young team won't add the scalp of Arema to that collection?