After Mad Months, It’s Finally Football Time

With the long tussle for leadership effectively ended, it’s time for Indonesian football to put the focus back onto the game as the national team plays Turkmenistan on Saturday night.

Merah Putih visits Ashgabat Olympic Stadium for the first leg of the 2014 World Cup Asian qualifying round against the Central Asian “Green Men.”

Besides hosting the match, Turkmenistan has another advantage over the visitors, having beaten Indonesia 4-1 on aggregate after two legs in the 2012 Olympic qualifiers in March.

However, forward Arif Suyono said Saturday’s match would be a different affair.

“We’re not afraid. It will be hard to win the game but we’ll fight and hope for a good result,” he said on Friday. “Our problem will likely be the heat in Ashgabat. Today, it reached 40 degrees [Celsius].”

Wilhelmus Rijsbergen’s side arrived in Turkmenistan on Thursday without two players who were unable to obtain visas after their passports were lost. Defender Wahyu Wiji Astanto, who was to make his senior team debut, and midfielder Tony Sucipto were told about 30 minutes before they were due to leave for the airport that they weren’t coming.

Assistant coach Widodo Cahyono Putro said Indonesia faced a daunting task. “Turkmenistan has physical and speed advantages. But we can tame them with player positioning,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of strategy we use, teamwork and fighting spirit will cover our lack of preparation. A draw will be a good result for us.”

The team’s preparations for the match were hampered by the shock decision by the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) to replace coach Alfred Riedl with Rijsbergen just three days before the team’s training camp was set to start.

Rijsbergen, who has coached PSM Makassar since January, conceded he was still unfamiliar with many of the Indonesia players. So for the time being, he said, he would let his assistant, Rahmad Darmawan, lead the team.

Though the coaches declined to reveal their strategy, during training the team focused on a 4-3-3 formation.

Goalkeeper Markus Harison is likely to again get the start, while Ricardo Salampessy, who recently recovered from a knee injury, will likely be at the heart of the defense with Muhammad Roby. Muhammad Nasuha on the left and Zulkifly Syukur on the right should round out the team’s backline.

With Tony unavailable, midfielder Ahmad Bustomi will likely start alongside captain and playmaker Firman Utina and Eka Ramdani. Uruguayan-born striker Christian Gonzales, who was naturalized last year, is likely to lead a three-pronged attack with Arif on the right flank and Boaz Solossa on the left.

“The Gonzales-Boaz partnership up front will create more problems for the opponents as they have great skill and also experience. I hope they can work well together,” Widodo said.

Boaz, the Indonesian Super League’s top scorer with 22 goals last season, will wear the Merah Putih jersey again after being left off the team for the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup by coach Riedl because of discipline problems.

Turkmenistan coach Yazguly Hojageldiyev has called up a 28-man squad for the match, with striker Berdy Shamuradov, the Turkmenistan league’s top scorer for the past three seasons, and defender Gochkuli Gochkuliev headlining the squad.

Indonesia will host the return match at Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta on Thursday.

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