Waiting game: Fans await kickoff at the Italian Institute of Culture in Menteng, Central Jakarta. Mark WilsonAn hour before the first Group C match of the Euro 2012 international soccer tournament, the Italian Institute of Culture in Menteng was a quiet affair. It was to be expected, given that it was 10 p.m. on a Sunday night.
Fast forward an hour and that air of tranquility had vanished, with over a hundred people packing into the institute’s meeting room, decked out with rows of chairs and a large projector to boot, to watch a mouthwatering game of soccer. It was Italy vs. Spain, and given the sea of blue shirts before me, there were no prizes for guessing which side this Indonesian crowd was on.
“Fratelli d’Italia! [Brothers of Italy],” they sang, bellowing out the first line of the Italian national anthem. “L’Italia s’è desta! [Italy has awoken]”. It was impressive stuff, and as the match started I almost felt as if I had been catapulted into the stadium in the Polish city of Gdansk, where the match was being played out.
This is just one small example of how Jakartans are taking to Europe’s top international soccer tournament. As well as the Italian national team, more colloquially known as the Azzuri, all of Europe’s top soccer nations are on show, including the likes of tournament favorites Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. Many venues across the city are hosting special events — often in the early hours of the morning given the time difference — to allow Jakartans to come together and support their adopted nation of choice.
For 30-year-old Sigit, his support is a question of heritage.
“My great grandmother was from the Netherlands, so the Dutch are the team for me,” he says. The shared history between the two nations cuts both ways. Former Dutch captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who retired in 2010 with 106 appearances for the national team, is of Indonesian descent and two members of the current Dutch – John Heitinga and Robin van Persie – reportedly share Indonesian heritage.
“I’ll be watching all of the team’s matches,” continues Sigit. “My favorite players are attackers van Persie and Dirk Kuyt and I just really enjoy watching the team play.”
Goal! The crowd celebrates as their adopted team, Italy, scores to go 1-0 up against Spain. The game finished 1-1. Mark WilsonThat enjoyment has now been cut short, with the Netherlands surprisingly exiting the tournament at the group stage after three straight defeats, proof of the unforgiving nature of the competition.
However, one team that has progressed to the knockout stages of the competition with flying colors is Germany.
“I’m supporting Germany because of my favorite club team, Bayern Munich,” said 27-year-old Aan. “There are eight players in the Bayern squad that have pretty much started every game for Germany so far.”
Aan watches the games with friends in a local café and for the final, he will be setting up a big screen in his neighborhood so that more people can watch — and Aan clearly does like to watch Germany play.
“The Germans used to have a rigid playing style but they now play with much more fluidity and creativity in midfield,” he says. “Just look at players like Mesut Ozil or Bastian Schweinsteiger and you’ll see what I mean.”
Meanwhile, the match between Italy and Spain at the Italian Institute of Culture had reached the halfway point goalless, but Indonesian fans had certainly found plenty to gesticulate about. Succumbing to the Italian stereotype, one girl dramatically flung her arms in the air and pleaded to the soccer gods when the Azzuri came close to scoring.
Things became equally heated at the other end of the pitch. The Italian defense had for the large part proved resolute, but when Spanish playmaker Xavi Hernandez threatened to pick the lock, handing teammate Andres Iniesta with a goal scoring opportunity that the latter subsequently missed, Indonesian nerves started to jangle, so much so to the point where Xavi was collectively told to “go forth and multiply” – in Italian – by the patriotic Indonesian crowd.
One member of the crowd, 22-year-old Umam, had already warned of the Spanish threat before the match, but had also spoken passionately about the qualities of Italian soccer.
“I’ve supported Italy since 1994, since I was very young,” says Umam, who is also learning Italian. “I’ve come to love the Italian mentality of playing soccer, which is highly defensive but is also based on quick counterattacking.”
Umam speaks of the Italian playing style of catenaccio, a highly defensive soccer strategy of the 1960s and 1970s, designed to frustrate opponents through man marking and keeping men behind the ball. Look at the Italian team today though, with the likes of explosive attackers Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, and the midfield creative master Andrea Pirlo, and it’s clear that the Azzuri are deceptively much more progressive today then they were in yesteryear, irrespective of how far they go in Euro 2012.
As the tournament heads toward its conclusion, glory awaits those Indonesians that will have adopted the winning team. But for some, that glory is tinged with a dose of reality.
Italian pride: Supporters show their love for the Italian team by displaying the national flag of Italy. Mark Wilson“If your team wins, it will be just like seeing your favorite singer with American Idol,” says Aan, who has adopted Germany as his team. “But I can’t help thinking that it’s all a little pathetic. As Indonesians we really support other countries and some of us even love other national teams more than our own.”
Dutch fan Sigit explains why he thinks this is the case.
“The quality of European soccer is just so much better than what we see in Indonesia, but its not just about the style,” he says. “Indonesian soccer is very complicated. It’s very political and money orientated. If you asked me about the players or the teams, I wouldn’t be able to answer you.”
One can only imagine what kind of national fever would be whipped up if the Indonesian national soccer team were ever to qualify for the World Cup finals. Given the love of soccer in this country, that would surely be a sight to behold.