The Jakarta Post
Less than a week before Indonesia commemorates the 73rd anniversary of its independence, the national youth soccer team presented the country with the memorable gift of victory in the U-16 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championship.
The euphoria the young players have generated is what the nation really needs as it gears up for the Asian Games, which will officially open this week.
The teenagers have also given Indonesian athletes a significant morale boost to perform their best in the world’s second-largest sporting event after the Olympics.
Indeed, the glorious day on Saturday in Sidoarjo, East Java, played a part in the Indonesian U-23 soccer team’s 4-0 win over Chinese Taipei in a group match on Sunday, giving the home side an ideal start to its campaign to win a medal in Games soccer for the first time in 60 years. Indonesia won the bronze medal in soccer in the 1958 Asian Games and came closer to repeating it in 1986.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s enthusiastic welcome of the AFF Championship trophy reflected our longing for international laurels in sports, particularly in soccer. Two years ago, Indonesia’s U-19 squad won the Southeast Asian tournament for the first time, and some of those players are now part of the same team that will don the national colors in the Games.
The desire to realize its dream was clearly behind the national U-16 team’s unbeatable run at the AFF tournament. The team completed the group stage with a 100 percent record and tamed Malaysia in the semifinals before defeating three-time winner Thailand on penalties in the final.
The full support of 26,000 spectators helped the youngsters fight tirelessly for their long-awaited victory.
Sutan Zico, Bagus Kahfi, Rendy Juliansyah and David Maulana found the net during the nail-biting penalty shootout, but let’s not forget the great role of goalkeeper Ernando Ari, who produced two saves to deny tournament favorite Thailand a fourth title.
Indonesia, the new U-16 Southeast Asian champion, cemented its supremacy with star striker Bagus Kahfi topping the scorers list with 12 goals.
The achievements of Indonesia’s youth teams in the past few years should provide glimmering hope for the world’s fourth-most populous country to reach greater heights in the following years.
Indonesia has proven that it is blessed with a plentiful, if not unlimited, stock of young talents ready to rock the soccer world if they are well trained and nurtured.
It would not be presumptuous for Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) technical director Danurwindo to pin his hopes on the U-16 team to realize the country’s dream of qualifying for the Olympic Games and World Cup for the first time ever.
Danur said the PSSI was intent on grooming the junior squad for the 2024 Olympics and 2034 World Cup.
While the target seems ambitious, nothing is impossible if the nation has the will to achieve it. The U-16 Asian Cup in September will be a litmus test for the young athletes on whether they can live up to the country’s dreams.