Indonesia’s Young Garuda footballers eye Olympic glory as U-23 Asian Cup run ignites national pride

Indonesia’s national under-23 football team unleashed patriotic fervour across the sports-mad nation with a string of impressive performances in the U-23 Asian Cup, raising hopes for a shot at Olympic glory despite a recent heartbreaking defeat.

The squad, known as the Young Garuda, made history by reaching the semi-finals of the U-23 Asian Cup – the Asian Football Confederation’s qualification tournament for the Olympics – for the first time since the tournament was created in 2013.

In their debut at the tournament, the Young Garuda beat teams from Asian football behemoths Jordan, Australia, and South Korea – the home nation of Shin Tae-yong, head coach of the Indonesian men’s national football team.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo watches the Young Garuda’s semi-final match with senior government officials at the presidential palace. Photo: X / @jokowi

The Young Garuda’s back-to-back victories sparked jubilation across Indonesia, which last featured on the global football stage at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, where the team lost 4-0 to the Soviet Union in the quarter-finals.

“So this is what it’s like to be a Brazilian, when you wake up you just have to smile because you have a good national team,” one fan wrote on social media platform X on April 26.

On Monday night, as the Young Garuda squared off against Uzbekistan in the semi-finals, football fans across Indonesia erected big screens to watch the game together, in a tradition known locally as nobar.

Crowds also swarmed Jakarta’s main stadium, Gelora Bung Karno, where fans donned the red and white national jerseys, waved the country’s flags, and set up flares during the match.

President Joko Widodo, himself a football fan, also held a nobar in the presidential palace with several cabinet ministers.

Umarali Rakhmonaliev (left) of Uzbekistan vies with Muhammad Ferarri of Indonesia during their semi-final at the U-23 Asian Cup in Doha, Qatar, on Monday. Photo: Xinhua

But the fans’ excitement was dashed after Uzbekistan beat Indonesia 2-0 in a game marred by drama, including an offside goal by Indonesia, a red card for Indonesian defender Rizky Ridho, and an own goal that sealed the Central Asian nation’s victory.

However, Indonesia can still earn a ticket to the Olympics if the team defeats Iraq on Thursday and clinches third place. If they lose, they would have to beat Guinea in an Asian-African playoff match.

“Uzbekistan was the stronger [team]. Congratulations to the Uzbekistan team. We still have a chance to play in the Olympics, so we have to have good preparation to qualify for the Olympics,” coach Shin said in a post-match briefing on Monday.

“I think before starting the game, we were a little nervous. Maybe this affects the team so we can’t play as well as usual.”

Shin Tae-yong, head coach of Indonesia, during the U-23 Asian Cup semi-final in Doha, Qatar, on Monday. Photo: Xinhua

Despite the loss, fans expressed support for the team on Tuesday.

“Throughout the tournament, Uzbekistan has never lost and has never conceded. Throughout the tournament, Indonesia only lost due to red cards, referee decisions and unfriendly VAR. Chin up, young folks! Get up again for [winning the] third place. WE WILL REMAIN PROUD,” user @jerryarvino wrote on X.

Praise also came from the president, with Widodo urging the Young Garuda not to give up. “There is still hope for third place and the opportunity to enter the Olympics,” he said on X. “Don’t give up, Young Garuda. Keep up the spirit!”



Indonesians pay tribute to victims of deadly football stadium crush one year ago

Indonesians pay tribute to victims of deadly football stadium crush one year ago

Rebound from tragedy

Mohamad Kusnaeni, a football pundit and analyst, said Indonesian football was now at “a turning point” following the Kanjuruhan stadium tragedy in October 2022.

A clash between football fans and police at the stadium that month left 135 people dead, and nearly 600 injured, making it the second-deadliest disaster in football history.

“The Kanjuruhan tragedy was the peak of the public’s scepticism towards Indonesian football. That’s the lowest point,” Kusnaeni said.

Indonesian supporters watch the U-23 Asian Cup semi-final match on giant screens outside the Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta on Monday. Photo: AFP

“We rebounded through football reform. Erick Thohir was very successful in orchestrating this reform, perhaps because of his position as [an official] close to the centre of power, so he could use his access to accelerate reform.”

Thohir, minister of state-owned enterprises, was elected chairman of Indonesia’s football association in February 2023. Under his leadership, Indonesia was appointed host of the Fifa U-20 World Cup, although football’s governing body rescinded the appointment after the governor of Bali refused to host Israel’s team.

A poll by the Indonesian Survey Institute in August found that 88 per cent of 1,520 respondents were “satisfied” with Thohir’s performance as the football association’s chairman.

Kusnaeni credited the team’s current success to coach Shin’s ability to increase Indonesian footballers’ “discipline, focus, and stamina”. Indonesia’s decision to naturalise foreign-born players of Indonesian descent to strengthen the national team at all age levels also looks to be paying dividends.

Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Paes, whose grandmother was born in East Java, became a naturalised Indonesian citizen on Tuesday so he can play for the national team. Photo: USA Today Sports via Reuters

Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Paes, 25, whose grandmother was born in the city of Kediri in East Java, took an oath on Tuesday to become an Indonesian citizen, making him the 14th player to become naturalised since Shin was appointed coach in 2019.

“Naturalised players have better experience than players who come from domestic competitions. If we want to play at a high level, we have to have players who are used to playing at the same level,” Kusnaeni said.

“They play in the Dutch league, the Belgian league, and other leagues above the Asian leagues. This helps the experience and quality of the Indonesian national team.”



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