Fans flock to football in Jakarta

Sportsworld's Wayne Hay sees that the future is bright for Indonesian football.

    Indonesian football fans were out in force during the
    group stage of the Asian Cup in Jakarta [AFP]

    With football's Asian Cup getting down to the business end, the powers that be will be beginning to assess how successful the tournament has been.


    It was a huge gamble staging the event in four different nations, and most of the games have struggled to attract decent crowds.

    However Indonesia was the shining light, as the fans came out in huge numbers.

    The scene at the final Group D match between Indonesia and South Korea was exactly what the Asian Football Confederation had in mind when they were planning the Asian Cup.

    The game in Jakarta was another sellout and everywhere you looked before, during and afterwards, there was a sea of passionate Indonesian fans adorned in red.

    Indonesian striker Bambang Pamungkas, a crowd favourite and Jakarta local, says he adores the supporters as much as they adore him.

    "Football here is everything, everyone loves to play football, even in the street everybody loves to play football and the fanaticism of the crowd is incredible here," Pamungkas said.

    Sadly, Jakarta's massive Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, which will also host the final on July 29, has been the exception to the rule.

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    While the Vietnamese team also attracted a good following in Hanoi, the other main Asian Cup centres Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok failed to capture the imagination of the public.

    The Indonesians though got behind this tournament, and in particular their team, who became the hottest ticket in town, especially for those who didn't have one.

    The match against South Korea attracted about 90,000 people, but many more tried to sneak their way into the venue while trying to avoid catching the eye of the heavily armed police.

    The supporters came because their team was still alive, footing it with some of the more fancied teams in Asia, and they were still in with a chance of making the quarter-finals.



    Still being in contention in a major tournament was unchartered territory for the players.

    A very big step

    Star striker Bambang Pamungkas, left, was
    one of the players the fans came to see [AFP]

    "That's a very, very big step for us you know," Ponaryo Astaman, Indonesia captain, said.

    "Now we feel that we are equal against a team like Saudi and also South Korea."

    The fans also came because their team plays an attractive, fast brand of football, and everyone involved, the public, administrators and players hope this tournament will provide the sport in Indonesia with the boost it needed.

    "Hopefully in the future we can be more professional and maybe it's the start of a professional era in Indonesia," said Pamungkas, who was one of Indonesia's best during the tournament.

    "Many people say that Indonesians have many good talents but the problem is that we cannot make use of those so hopefully in the future we can create a good league and with a good league you have a good national team."

    Pride and happiness

    Of course, that huge crowd in Jakarta wasn't quite enough in the end, as the 1-0 loss to South Korea saw Indonesia narrowly miss out on the quarter-finals.

    Afterwards, the first thoughts of the players were for those who had come to support them.

    "They're fantastic, we've never had supporters like this before and we thank them for the support and we're sorry we still cannot make it through," Astaman said.

    But after the game, the only disappointment was on the faces of the players.

    The faces of the supporters displayed a mixture of pride and happiness that their team had performed well, and fought until the very end.

    Thousands of people stayed behind to cheer and chant the players onto the bus and back to their hotel.

    If that backing continues, it seems the future of Indonesian football is bright.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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