Jakarta (ANTARA) - At a parade in Jakarta on Friday (May 19, 2023), the whole country cheered for Indonesian athletes who participated in this year’s SEA Games.

Although this year's games have come to an end, videos of athletes during competitions are still going viral among netizens.

Even though it ranked third below Vietnam and Thailand in medal achievements, Indonesia's wins this year felt special.

That’s because Indonesia not only finished third in the Games for the second time (the nation had only managed to place fourth or fifth since 2013), but this year's success was also marked by the end of the 32-year wait for a football gold.

The achievements of the national football team may not have been as many as that of other sports teams, but football remains the most popular sport in the country and unites just about anyone.

A poll conducted in 33 countries by IPSOS in September 2022 found that Indonesia has the largest number of football fans in the world.

As many as 69 percent of the Indonesian respondents questioned by IPSOS said they were football fans.

That figure is higher compared to world champions Argentina (51 percent) and even Japan (14 percent), one of the Asian teams that often compete in major tournaments.

The IPSOS survey is just one proof of how much Indonesians love football.

Stadiums or soccer fields in the country are always filled with spectators. Indonesians are always enthusiastic about watching national football matches, both directly and indirectly, such as through television or video streaming, no matter what level of achievement the national team or clubs achieve.

National clubs have tens of millions of fans, an attraction for the football industry, but this fact has not been balanced by the national teams' achievements internationally.

Earlier, at the SEA Games, Indonesia only won gold medals in football in 1987 and 1991.

In 2023, the country added one gold for football after beating Thailand, a tough competitor, in the final by 5-2.

Meanwhile, in other competitions, like the AFF Cup, Indonesia is still finding it difficult to gain a noteworthy status as champion.

Although Indonesia has entered the AFF Cup final six times, it has never been successful in winning the trophy.

The national team ended their journey in the group stage of the four Asian Cups that they participated in.

However, Indonesia once reached the quarterfinals in men's football at the Stockholm Olympics in 1956, and it clinched the bronze medal at the 1958 Asian Games as well as the semifinal of the 1954 and 1986 Asian Games.

As the trophy seemed unattainable previously, the 2023 SEA Games gold medal, won three days ago in Cambodia, brought relief and stoked optimism that Indonesia can come out on top.

The gold can also serve as an encouragement to make better achievements in other arenas.

The success in Cambodia has offered consolation for disappointment over Indonesia being dropped as the U20 World Cup host.

Asian Cup hope

Next, Indonesia will participate in the 2023 Asian Cup, which will be held in Qatar next January. Indonesia has been placed in Group D with Japan, Iraq, and Vietnam in the group stage.

The competition will be tough, but the SEA Games gold could serve as motivation for the national team players.

It might be too ambitious to say that Indonesia may emerge as the champion at the competition, but at least there is hope that it could script new history in the 2023 Asian Cup.

In the previous Asian Cup editions in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2007, Indonesia's record was not too notable.

Eight of the total 12 matches ended in its defeat, while the rest comprised 2 draws and 2 wins.

In the 2007 Asian Cup, Indonesia managed to avoid the title of being the team that conceded the most goals.

Indonesia, which hosted the 2007 Asian Cup along with Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand, managed to score three goals and conceded "only" four times.

At the time, Indonesia fought extremely hard against two Asian giants, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, who only managed narrow 2-1 and 1-0 wins against the team.

Indonesia also defeated Bahrain after losing to it in the 2004 Asian Cup.

Since 2007, Indonesia has been absent from the Asian Cup scene and is only entering the tournament after a gap of 16 years—and there is reason to be optimistic that Indonesia can do better this time.

One of the reasons is the gold it has won at the SEA Games after more than three decades. The gold haul in 1991 was so far the highest achievement the national football team had ever made.

Another reason for the optimism is that Indonesia's position in the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) rankings has slowly risen to 149, although it is still below Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

If the national team can repeat their success in Cambodia at the 2023 Asian Cup, they will not only make the national football community prouder, but could also grab the attention of football bodies such as FIFA.

After Indonesia was dropped as the host of the U-20 World Cup, FIFA imposed administrative sanctions in the form of freezing FIFA Forward funds intended for football development in Indonesia.

This could indicate that FIFA still has great expectations from Indonesia, and does not want to ignore what Indonesian football has achieved lately.

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Editor: Rahmad Nasution
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