Bahrain and Indonesia - a study in contrasts

Bahrain and Indonesia - a study in contrasts

By Ben Schultz

In the 2004 Asian Cup the Golden Boot was won by Bahraini star A’ala Hubail. The part-time footballer and full-time paramedic has long been the star of a team that has consistently punched above its weight.

Indonesia and Bahrain do battle

However in April this year A’ala and his brother, holding midfielder Mohamed were arrested for partaking in protests against the government. Joining them were big central defender Sayed Mohamed Adnan and fellow defender Abbas Ayad.

A talented and cohesive Bahraini side was torn asunder and there was much uncertainty as to whether Peter Taylor was going to be able to pull the team together in time for the impending World Cup Qualifiers.

The qualifiers started with Bahrain hosting arch rivals Qatar in what turned out to be a rather drab affair. The Bahraini’s seemed to lack the spark that marked the team prior to the Arab Spring and one had the sense that it was going to be a short and rather painful campaign.

When the team jogged out into the cauldron of Gelora Bung Karno Stadium there was an expectant air in the 85,000 strong partisan crowd. Indonesian football itself has been in turmoil, and despite the earlier 0-3 loss to Iran there were many reasons to believe that Merah Putih could get the best of an Al-Ahmar side that appeared to be on the ropes. After not losing at home for the previous eight games, they had reasons to be confident.

After 5 minutes of the first half it was clear the Bahrainis had other ideas.

With Jaycee John not in the side and dynamo A‘ala also absent, it was unclear as to who would step up to trouble the Indonesian defense. It was a moment for someone to shine, and that player was Faouzi Aaish. His intelligent runs from the midfield were causing real consternation in the Indonesian midfield, and his linking with striker Ismail Abdul-Latif were resulting time and again with balls getting behind a perplexed Indonesian back four.

The space afforded the Bahraini’s in the final third was generous to say the least.

In the end the Bahraini’s ran out deserved 0-2 winners. Despite the problems at home, the dangerous mix of politics and sport and the absence of key players, the Bahraini’s managed to get their qualification back on track. One feels that they left Jakarta a far more unified squad than the one that arrived a few days earlier.

The Indonesian response, sadly, reflects the turmoil the game is currently experiencing in that most passionate of archipelagos. The game was briefly halted as firecrackers and bottles rained onto the pitch, prompting President Yudhoyono to leave the stadium. Bernhard Limbong, national team coordinator for the PSSI then publicly suggested using the Under-23 national team for the four remaining qualifiers.

President Yudhoyono has reportedly issued a Presidential Decree to complete the naturalization of Dutch-born Tonnie Cussell, Stefano Lilipaly, Johny Rudolf van Beukering and Sergio van Dijk and Nigerian-born Greg Nwoloko and Victor Chuckwuekrzie Igbonefo. The intention is that these players be rushed in to salvage Merah Putih’s campaign. In a football mad country of 240 million it is a move that smacks of knee-jerk decision making. This is not a good sign from a national side that has consistently suffered from poor governance rather than lack of ability.

So as the dust settles after the recent round of qualifiers it is hard not to compare the recent combatants of Indonesia and Bahrain. Bahrain should be falling apart; they are not. Indonesia should be getting it together. They too are confounding the pundits, but for all the wrong reasons.

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