JAKARTA (20 Oct 2011) – If Indonesia break their long drought in men’s football at the SEA Games this year, they would have earned every ounce of gold. This week’s draw for the group stage in November’s Games did the host nation few favours – placing Indonesia alongside defending champion Malaysia and regional powers Thailand and Singapore.
Cambodia will likely be the only respite in Group A. Group B, meanwhile, features defending 2009 Games runner-up Vietnam, Laos, Brunei, East Timor, Burma and the Philippines.
With only the top two teams in each group advancing to the semi-finals, coach Rachmad Darmawan’s squad faces a challenging road to bring Indonesia their first SEA Games gold medal since 1991.
However, Rachmad was calm and collected after the draw.
“I always pray for the best for my team, including before the draw, then we got this. I believe the group is the best thing that could happen to us,” said Rachmad.
“The most important thing for us right now is to focus on our job and put our best effort on the field to qualify to the next round.”
Reverse psychology or not, Rachmad may have a point.
Indonesia had what looked like an easy group at the 2009 Games in Vientiane, Laos, being drawn with Singapore, Myanmar and the host nation. Instead, a 2-2 draw with Singapore was followed by a stunning 2-0 loss to Laos and a 3-1 defeat against Burma, leaving the Merah Putih last in the group.
Malaysian football has been on an upswing recently. After winning the 2009 Games, their senior team won the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup after beating Indonesia in the two-legged final.
Thailand, which have won the SEA Games gold 11 times since 1977, will likely send the U23 team that lost 1-0 to Japan in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. Singapore have won bronze at the last two Games.
Rachmad said he was not worried about the draw, though.
“In age-group teams, all Southeast Asian teams have more or less the same quality. There are no big or minnow teams. All of the teams have the same chance to qualify from the group, even Cambodia,” he said.
The coach also said he had sent assistant Widodo Cahyono Putra to Hanoi to assess future opponents at the VFF Cup. Vietnam, Malaysia and Myanmar will play in the tournament.
At home, Pakistan has cancelled Friday’s friendly against the U23 team, Rachmad said. Instead, his squad will play local club Mitra Kukar on the same day.
The team’s last international friendly before the Games is against East Timor at Gelora Bung Karno on 25 Oct.
Pundits and fans expressed some surprise over Indonesia’s group. Draws usually seed several teams to prevent big names from playing each other at an early stage, but FA of Indonesian (PSSI) secretary general Tri Goestoro said everything was done by the book.
“In the SEA Games technical handbook, there are only two seeded teams in the draw. They are the defending champions, which is Malaysia, and the runners-up, which is Vietnam,” Tri said. “All the countries’ federations, including the PSSI, agreed on the rules. The draw was fair and square.”
SOURCE: Jakarta Globe